May 31--"So they took Russian folk dances and Russian folk songs, they squared them and flattened them, twisted and cubed them, turning them into something different and new!"
All that twisting and turning took place 100 years ago, on May 29, 1913, when "The Rite of Spring" ballet premiered in Paris, a famed event Lauren Stringer writes about in her 2013 children's picture book "When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky: Two Artists, Their Ballet, and One Extraordinary Riot," quoted above.
"The Rite of Spring" indeed caused a riot among members of the audience who either adored or abhorred composer Igor Stravinsky's aggressive, dissonant score and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky's clunky, unorthodox dance moves.
A century later, Ojai Music Festival audiences, accustomed to and champions of the avant-garde, will most likely behave themselves on opening night when jazz trio The Bad Plus performs its version of Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" -- on bass, piano and drums.
It's "just three acoustic instruments, playing the score almost completely straight, and adding whatever non-Stravinsky juice that feels completely natural," pianist Ethan Iverson told JazzTimes in 2011, when The Bad Plus premiered the piece to applause and acclaim at Duke University.
The Ojai Music Festival returns next week for its own riotous yet refined rite: four days of outdoor performances where modernist classics become even more modern; works that are rarely performed dig and drift into your ears; and everyone falls in love again with Ojai's many balms.
The festival opens Thursday and runs through June 9 at Libbey Bowl and surrounding venues.
MARK MORRIS: MUSICIAN
This year, the eclectic schedule of concerts will feature a dose of dance to go along with the song.
Mark Morris, founder of the Mark Morris Dance Group, is the festival's music director, and during two evening concerts on June 7, his group will perform to music by Henry Cowell, Charles Ives, Lou Harrison and Samuel Barber.
Although "The Rite of Spring" is a ballet, at this dance-centric Ojai Music Festival, no dancers will accompany The Bad Plus. Morris is, however, choreographing a dance titled "Spring, Spring, Spring" that will premiere during Ojai North, a reprise of the festival in Berkeley in collaboration with Cal Performances from June 12-15.
Why did a music festival enlist someone known as a choreographer to be its music director?
To Morris, the question is unnecessary.
"It's not a choreographer -- it's me," he said in a phone interview from New York. "It's not interchangeable. I work in music; I always have. I have a big experience and a big idea of music. I like music better than dancing -- it's much more interesting."
Since 1996, the Brooklyn-based Mark Morris Dance Group, which formed in 1980, has performed only to live music.
Morris, 56, also is known for directing and choreographing operas. Along with numerous dancing and arts awards, he's won honors for music including the Leonard Bernstein Lifetime Achievement Award for the Elevation of Music in Society.
Thomas W. Morris (no relation), the festival's artistic director, also asks "Why not?" rather than "Why?" when discussing Morris' appointment.
"Mark is probably one of the greatest musicians I've ever met," Tom Morris said in 2012 at a preview event for the festival. "He absolutely knows what music is about. Why do we insist on pigeonholing everybody? How is it that great artists like Mark Morris are far ahead of institutions and audiences in breaking down barriers that separate genres, talent and careers?"
During the festival, Tom Morris said, "the focus will be on music that Mark Morris knows and loves, basically American music and specifically the American maverick composers: Charles Ives, Henry Cowell, John Cage and Lou Harrison."
Add to that list of 20th-century late composers the very much alive Alaskan composer John Luther Adams, whose "Inuksuit" opened the festival last year. This year, free "Ojai Sunrise" concerts at 8 a.m. June 8 on a mountaintop at Besant Hill School and June 9 at Meditation Mount will feature red fish blue fish performing Adams' "Strange and Sacred Noise" and "songbirdsongs."
The performers, too, are all people Mark Morris knows and loves: the Mark Morris Dance Group; MMDG Music Ensemble, conducted by Joshua Gersen; The Bad Plus (pianist Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer David King); pianist-organist Colin Fowler; percussion ensemble red fish blue fish; UC Berkeley's Gamelan Sari Raras; and the American String Quartet.
The festival will feature at least six pieces by Harrison, along with films and talks about the late, little-known composer, poet and humanitarian from Northern California.
"It was always my intention to place a big focus on the great Lou Harrison," said Mark Morris, a friend of the composer before he died in 2003. He doesn't know why Harrison is "under-known."
"You either love Lou Harrison's music or you've never heard it," Morris said. "He was an expert in many non-Western musics, and a wonderful, multitalented, interesting, volatile, kind man who was a friend of mine. And the music is rhythmically thrilling, humble and stirring, and it's irresistible -- as he was as a man."
BEYOND THE BOWL
Additional festival activities will help attendees get to know Mark Morris, Harrison and others associated with the event, including talks and interviews hosted by the festival's Ara Guzelimian. Topics of discussions on Thursday and June 7 are "Choreographer as Musician," "Breaking Ground with The Bad Plus," "Lou Harrison and California" and "John Luther Adams and Place."
Three films will be screened: "Falling Down Stairs," a documentary that follows a collaboration between cellist Yo-Yo Ma and Mark Morris to create a dance accompanied by Bach's Third Suite for Unaccompanied Cello; "Lou Harrison: A World of Music," a documentary about the composer; and "Salome," a 1923 silent-film version of Oscar Wilde's play, with The Bad Plus providing live musical accompaniment.
Stringer ends her children's book with a phrase that could refer to every day of the Ojai Music Festival: "Something very different and new began this remarkable night."
OJAI MUSIC FESTIVAL
What and when: The 67th festival, with Mark Morris as music director, will feature concerts, talks and film screenings from Thursday through June 9.
Where: Most concerts take place at Libbey Bowl, with additional activities and some performances at other Ojai venues.
Cost: Tickets to individual concerts cost $50-$120 for reserved seating and $15 for lawn seating. Festival passes cost $95-$715 for reserved seating, $25-$95 for lawn seating. Ojai Late Night and Sunrise concerts are free, but reservations are required. Ojai Extra concerts are free.
Tickets and information: Visit http://www.ojaifestival.org or call 646-2053.
8-9:45 p.m.: The Bad Plus jazz collective will perform music from their album "Made Possible" and their arrangement of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring."
5-5:45 p.m. (free Ojai Extra concert): Gamelan Sari Raras will perform.
7-8 p.m.: Mark Morris Dance Group, American String Quartet and MMDG Music Ensemble will perform "Mosaic and United," set to Henry Cowell's String Quartets Nos. 3 and 4; and "Empire Garden," set to Charles Ives' Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano.
8:15-8:45 p.m. (Ojai Extra): Pianist Yegor Shevtsov will play works by Erik Satie and John Cage's "4'33" " and Suite for Toy Piano.
9-10 p.m.: Mark Morris Dance Group and MMDG Music Ensemble will perform "Excursions," set to Samuel Barber's "Excursions" for piano; the West Coast premiere of "Jenn and Spencer," set to Cowell's Suite for Violin and Piano; and "Grand Duo," set to Lou Harrison's "Grand Duo" for piano and violin.
10:30-11:30 p.m. (free Ojai Late Night concert): Pianist Ethan Iverson and soprano Yulia Van Doren will perform Cage's "Four Walls."
8-9:15 a.m. (free Ojai Sunrise concert): Percussion ensemble red fish blue fish will play John Luther Adams' "Strange and Sacred Noise" on a hilltop at Besant Hill School, 8585 Santa Paula Ojai Road.
11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Ojai In-C Players will perform Terry Riley's "In C."
6-6:45 p.m. (Ojai Extra): Concert by Gamelan Sari Raras.
8-10 p.m.: MMDG Music Ensemble, American String Quartet and pianists Colin Fowler and Yegor Shevtsov, conducted by Joshua Gersen, will play Lou Harrison's Suite for Symphonic Strings and John Luther Adams' "For Lou Harrison."
10:30-11:30 p.m. (Ojai Late Night): Red fish blue fish will play works by John Cage and Harrison.
8-8:45 a.m. (Ojai Sunrise): Red fish blue fish will play John Luther Adams' "songbirdsongs" at Meditation Mount, 10340 Reeves Road.
11 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Singers Yulia Van Doren, Jamie Van Eyck and Douglas Williams, pianist-organist Colin Fowler, trumpeter Sycil Mathai and the American String Quartet, conducted by Mark Morris, will perform songs by Henry Cowell and Charles Ives, Ives' String Quartet No. 2 and Carl Ruggles' "Exaltation."
4:30-5:30 p.m.: Red fish blue fish and organist Fowler, conducted by Joshua Gersen, will perform Leo Sowerby's "Pageant," William Bolcom's "La Cathedrale engloutie," Vincent Persichetti's "Sonatine," Ives' Variations on "America" and Lou Harrison's Concerto for Organ with Percussion Orchestra.
6:30-7:30 p.m.: Singers Van Doren, Van Eyck and Williams, pianist Fowler, MMDG Music Ensemble, red fish blue fish and Gamelan Sari Raras, conducted by Gersen, will perform Henry Cowell's "Heroic Dance" and "Atlantis," and Harrison's Fugue for Percussion and Concerto for Piano with Javanese Gamelan.
Ojai Talks: Two "Ojai Talks" sessions moderated by Ara Guzelimian, each divided into two parts, will take place at Ojai Valley Community Church, 907 El Centro St. Each session costs $35.
On Thursday, topics are "Choreographer as Musician," a discussion with music director Mark Morris, 1-2 p.m.; and "Breaking Ground with The Bad Plus," a conversation with the trio, 2:30-3:30 p.m.
On June 7, L.A. Times music critic Mark Swed and film director Eva Soltes will discuss "Lou Harrison and California," 1-2 p.m.; and composer-environmentalist John Luther Adams will discuss his work in "John Luther Adams and Place," 2:30-3:30 p.m.
Films: Three films will be screened during the festival at the Ojai Playhouse, 145 Ojai Ave. "Falling Down Stairs," 4-5 p.m. Thursday, is a 1998 documentary that follows a yearlong collaboration between cellist Yo-Yo Ma and Mark Morris. "Lou Harrison: A World of Music," 1:30-3:15 p.m. June 8, is a 2012 documentary by Eve Soltes about the American composer. "Salome," 3:45-5 p.m. June 8, is a 1925 silent-film version of Oscar Wilde's play, with live musical accompaniment by The Bad Plus. Admission to all screenings is free, but reservations are required.
MMDG community events: The Mark Morris Dance Group will present free workshops open to the public: "Get Fit with MMDG," workouts with dancers from the ensemble, 9-10 a.m. June 7-9 at Libbey Park; and "Dance with MMDG," a dance workshop, 4-5 p.m. June 8 at Ojai Art Center, 113 S. Montgomery St.
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