Friday, June 27, 2014

Ojai North

Last weekend I was glad to make it to the last performance of the Ojai North Music Festival at Cal Performances. The fun program featured pianist Jeremy Denk in the Ligeti Etudes & Beethoven's Choral Fantasy. Mr. Denk mentioned chaos theory in his introductory remarks before launching into Books I & II of Ligeti's cruelly difficult piano etudes (minus Book II's "Columna Infinită"). He played with impressive agility, freedom & a sense of fun. The audience gasped at the speed with which he took the opening "Désordre." The runs of "Fanfares" flowed incredibly smoothly & the different dynamic levels were very clear. He communicated a jaunty humor in "Fem" & made "En Suspens" sound like Debussy. His playing was loose enough that he sometimes seemed to be looking around while playing, & he had good communication with his page-turner. Someone shouted "Bravo" at the conclusion of Book I, & the audience gave a standing ovation at the end of Book II & recalled Mr. Denk several times.

A chorus of about 30 sang Ives's solemn Psalm 90, & their performance was quiet & soothing. The percussion was in the upper back of the auditorium, giving the chimes an other-worldly feeling. Mr. Denk played the solos in the Choral Fantasy with a slight rubato that felt relaxed but not slack. The Knights, a New York-based chamber orchestra of around 30 musicians, looked like they were having fun with the Beethoven as well. The chorus sounded even & displayed nice dynamic range. I liked the brief trio of male soloists. The festival audience was appreciative & attentive though not as full as I would have expected. On the other hand, performances had been going on since 11am that day. I had a major Choral Fantasy earworm for the next couple of days.

§ Ojai North Music Festival
Jeremy Denk, piano
The Knights
Eric Jacobsen, conductor

Ojai Festival Singers
Kevin Fox, conductor

LIGETI: Piano Études Books I & II
IVES: Psalm 90
BEETHOVEN: Fantasy for Piano, Chorus, and Orchestra, Op.80

Sat, June 21, 8 pm
Hertz Hall

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