Back from Ojai

I left beautiful sunny and cool Cali yesterday morning, and arrived in the sticky humid pool that is NYC late last night. Oh my God!! this heat!!! the first thing I did after climbing the three floors to my apartment was to install the air conditioner.

So the Ojai Festival finished with a bang. Mad props to SIGNAL for a phenomenal opening concert Thursday night. 8 Lines and Daniel Variations went really well, despite some sound issues. So Percussion also offered up Nagoya Marimbas, and Four Organs, which, despite the legend stories of their premieres, I found really fascinating to listen to. The communication between the players was magical, and the M-Audio “organs” were awesome. As the patters got longer, the sample patches deteriorated, which was really cool. SIGNAL played with such intensity. Dare I say, the ladies of the string section played with the balls the Ojai Orchestra was lacking…I know, very unfeminist of me.

The thing about Reich’s music is that it is insanely difficult, and highly dependent on the mixing, which is why Steve usually mans the sound board. People come expecting to hear the same quality they get at home on their CD’s. That’s NEVER gonna happen, especially at an outdoor concert. For me, the kick out of watching his music, and live music in general, is the excitement and anticipation of something being created right before my eyes, especially something so inhumanly difficult! I say this because one snarky blogger commented on how he would rather keep his CD of the Daniel Variations. To that I say, you don’t come to a concert to hear great music, you come to see great music being performed, and with that comes all the good and the bad.

Sunday’s afternoon concert began with Steve Reich performing Clapping Music with Russ Hartenberger from NEXUS followed by two Ligeti Etudes expertly played by Eric Huebner, and Ionization with NEXUS and So Percussion. Ionization is not a piece you get to see too often, it takes a tremendous ensemble in skill and number, so seeing rockstars perform a monumental piece like Ionization was really thrilling. But the highlight to Sunday’s concerts was definitely Drumming, which Steve performed on also. I can’t even describe how truly awesome this piece is live, especially with NEXUS, the original performers, and So Percussion. I will echo another bloggers comment that it was sort of like watching the baton of minimalism being passed down from father to son.

The final concert came together somewhat, but not with any help from the festival orchestra. I had hoped that they would have a better stylistic understanding of the Baroque stuff, but no. the performance of the Pergolesi was pretty stale, despite great performances from Dawn Upshaw, who sounds great, and mezzo Kate Lindsay.

The orchestra did not get it together for the Tehillim. The strings were a mess, and missed a repeat in the second movement, and the winds missed an entrance. The singers had to ask where the monitors were, the sound guys were sitting on them!! We pulled it off, but David himself had to work really hard to keep the orchestra together, and he was seldom able to give cues to the singers. Lucky for him we were really on top of things, and obviously the percussion was amazing.

Not quite sure what to say about the orchestra. Pretty puzzling. On the east coast, most of my colleagues literally give up their day jobs to play this rep. This sort of unpreparedness just wouldn’t fly out here. Even more frustrating was the candid way that some of them joked about the difficulty of the piece, as in “the whole thing’s in four, right??” Har-har. If it were me, and I were performing a new piece, I’d check it out before I played it, it’s not like you can’t buy a recording on i tunes for .99, right? Oy.

ps Dawn Upshaw definitely encouraged us to skip the after party to get In and Out Burgers instead! How cool is she?

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Ojai, the Adventure Begins

Well, I landed in Burbank CA yesterday and had my one and only rehearsal for Tehillim at the Colburn School in downtown LA. First impressions: it’s a little cooler here than I thought it would be, and not humid at all. (Don’t forget I’m an east coast girl.) I haven’t really had an authentic Californian meal, but I will say that the sushi I snacked on during my rehearsal was out of this world! and I just picked it up at a little deli.

Nexus kind of blows my mind. These guys have been playing Reich’s music forever, in fact they’re the ones that Steve wrote a chunk of music for. They’re really chill, and totally on it. One of the guys told me this was somewhere near his 80th Tehillim or something. The set-up is a little different than I’m used to- the percussionists are sitting, but I guess when you’ve played it 80 times you don’t exactly need to stand and deliver. They messed around with our placement too. Also, the voices and the organs are the only amplified instruments! I’m used to everyone being amplified, which makes sound checks a total nightmare! David Robertson said that when everything is amplified it just gets louder and louder and there’s no dynamic variation, and while I totally agree with that, it’s an outdoor concert, and the winds will already be fighting the outdoor heat, and then unamplified?? yikes!!

I will say one snarky thing: Tehillum is SIGNAL vocals with Nexus percussion augmented with two guys from So Percussion, plus the Ojai Festival Orchestra-a group of freelancers. I was kind of disappointed in the rehearsal last night. It seemed like a large number of the orchestra hadn’t even cracked the score before the rehearsal- key signature changes completely not observed, repeats and da capo’s totally missed… the strings in particular just never really dug in to the sound. So, we were subjected to this rinse and repeat rehearsal technique so they could kind of get it together. It was pretty frustrating, but luckily David gave the vocalists permission to mark. With the exception of the percussion and the vocals (which definitely brought the fire and brimstone to the rehearsal) it was the most passive playing of Reich’s music I’ve ever observed- and btw- they were all MEN. (and how often are the vocalists the ones with their shit together???)

I know, I’m being kind of harsh, and this is a pick-up orchestra, and Tehillim is only one of ten pieces they will play, (also on this concert is Pergolesi) Contrary to the SIGNAL people, these guys don’t eat sleep and breathe to play this rep… but still, stylistic nuances aside, I kinda hope they get down to business before Sunday’s final concert.

Ok, I’m off to get “Bad Ass Coffee” and explore the beach, which is not even 100 yards away from my hotel. Tonight I’ll be at the SIGNAL concert, (Four Organs, Drumming, Nagoya Marimbas and Daniel Variations) where my colleagues will crack this festival wide open!! (and we have girls in our band……)