Musical company

American Modern Opera Company improvises a magical start for Ojai 2022

Davóne Tines performs in Ojai | Credit: Timothy Teague

Despite our high hopes in this ostensibly waning pandemic period, COVID continues to creep on the fringes. He did it on short notice at last weekend’s Ojai Music Festival. Just days before the 76th annual celebration of the music of our time, conceived and led by the young and ambitious American Modern Opera Company (AMOC), a key member of the collective, soprano Julia Bullock, had to withdraw due to a COVID Test.

This meant we were deprived of the Friday night premiere of a new semi-stage version by Olivier Messiaen. Harawi. Bullock’s planned performance of music by Bob Dylan, John Cage and Nina Simone was also scrapped.

In contrast, the Friday night slot quickly shifted to an exciting program from the AMOC catalog, spotlighting another major vocalist, bass-baritone Davone Teeth. He delivered one of the most impressive performances of the weekend, an integrated program involving music by JS Bach and Caroline Shaw and material based on moving hymns, all titled Recital No. 1: MASS.

Founded only in 2017, with Matthew Aucoin and Zack Winokur at the helm, AMOC has quickly established itself as a highly collaborative consortium to listen to and watch. Its central musical program is complemented by elements of poetry, new definitions of opera and dance, as seen in the tonic and meta-spirit of choreographer Bobbi Jene Smith. Open rehearsal in Ojai

A moment of the American Modern Opera Company Open rehearsal | Credit: Joshua Rose

Crossing cultural and racial boundaries is important to the band’s mission statement, and the Ojai package included notable projects like a concert featuring the wonderful Taiwanese American violinist Miranda Cuckson. She built a program around the premiere of the echo of timessong cycle by composer/keyboardist Anthony Cheung based on Asian sources.

Echoes of past Ojai festivals have become central to the presenter’s sense of continuity over more than seven decades. But whereas in the past this lineage could include the music of Ojai luminaries like Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, Olivier Messiaen and John Adams, this year’s events recognized the cachet of contemporary jazz composers/thinkers/musicians such as George Lewis, Roscoe Mitchell, and Tyshawn Sorey.

All of them appeared during the 2017 festival directed by Vijay Iyer. Imaginative strategies for Lewis and Mitchell’s “guided improvisation” works were the subject of an 8 a.m. concert on June 10 at the Zalk Theater, with a group of AMOC folks dropping in from convincingly at the time. Sorey, an unapologetically Morton Feldman-influenced composer, prevailed with his coldly contemplative solo piano work For James Primosch.

The crowd at the Libbey Bowl on Friday night | Credit: Timothy Teague

For long-time visitors here (myself included, dating back to the early 1980s), the weather felt a little askew this weekend, with concerts arriving only nine months after the delayed 75th festival. Ojai last September. Then John Adams was the returning hero as musical director (with Rhiannon Giddens – who is also returning in 2023 as musical director – bringing in a wider populist audience), but he wisely focused on young composers , including his son, Sam.

This year, Adams was present as an innocent, open-eared spectator, and it was interesting, seated a few rows behind him, to see his head nod and sway in rhythmic approval when he heard music. which had an obvious affinity with his own work. . On the Thursday night program, those moments included the thrumming of Eric Wubbels Gretchen am spinnrade and the fiery closing concert of Aucoin shaker dance.

But the highlight of the evening came in the form of two movements from the moving Michael Hersch scars dive into corners, for piano and flute (Conor Hanick and Emi Ferguson). The musical trajectory shifts from soft and harsh to coldly still and mysterious in its slow, lingering final section. This late-night moment was one of those magical Ojai moments, when the ambient cricket chorus at Libbey Bowl and a beaming moon above seem like interactive elements with the music.

Pianist Conor Hanick and cellist Coleman Itzkoff | Credit: Timothy Teague

Minimalist influences and pulses filtered through the 2022 lineup, as well as groove-focused pieces from the 1970s and 1980s like Frederic Rzewski’s Come together, with Tines intoning the riveting lines of an Attica prisoner who died in that infamous riot. Less known, but in the same vein, was the epic for solo piano by German composer Hans Otte The book of soundsmasterfully played by Hanick.

Most importantly, a deserved welcome from Ojai has been given to the work of reborn composer Julius Eastman, the black gay individualist of the minimalist world who died too soon and too obscure in 1990. Tines embodies and naturally reinforces the spirit of music by Eastman, as heard in a late-morning tribute titled “EASTMAN”, which ranged from spiritual spirits Our father and Prelude to the Holy Presence of Joan of Arc to the deconstructionist anthem stay on it (a longer version of which closed the festival on Sunday evening).

Eastman’s Beloved Half Hour gay guerrilla was a highlight of the program – and of the festival. The dizzyingly ecstatic work proved to be a musical statement both unruly and inwardly logical, gruff yet thoughtful, as was Eastman’s complex musical habit.

Among other hallmarks of Ojai 2022, Eastman now joins the ranks of the festival’s ever-expanding songbook of 20th and 21st century greats whose music has left a mark on this dreamy outpost of a city.