Mitsuko Uchida continues to pay attention to young artists in Ojai

Mitsuko Uchida sat at the piano, with her back to the audience.

It’s an unusual appearance for a reigning pianist whose name and face alone can fill concert halls or sell a new album of 200-year-old sonatas. But during four nights of performances at California’s Ojai Music Festival, that’s how Uchida played.

This is especially strange since she is the festival’s musical director, a position given to artists each year to organize the program and roster of performers. Her name appears on T-shirts and signs throughout the festival’s outdoor campus, not to mention the thick Vogue program book handed out at each concert.

Again, we’re talking about Ojai, where open-minded audiences listen to music and taste freshly picked pixie oranges in the company of nature. Uchida may seem like the headliner, but the festival is all about sharing the wealth.

She invited friends and colleagues she had known for years, such as the enthusiastic Brentano String Quartet. Highlights during the festival, which runs from June 6 to 9, are the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, with which Uchida frequently tours and whom she conducts at the piano.

Yet these tours rarely showcase the shape-shifting wit the band brings to Ojai. Its members played pop-up minis at festival center Libbey Park and even played a Johnny Cash cover band at a local bar. On stage, they performed traditional repertoire such as the heavenly Mozart Concerto with Uchida, as well as more contemporary works by Missy Mazzoli and John Adams.

Most movingly, they performed “Lichtbogen” by Kaija Saariaho, who died over a year ago and was mourned throughout the festival. In this piece, her daughter Aliisa Neige Barrière leads the Mahler players with authority and grace, while her widower Jean-Baptiste Barrière – Baptiste Barrière) operates the on-site electronic equipment. Amid the ensuing applause, Alyssa held up her mother’s sheet of music to the audience.

If the Mozart concerto that followed represented Uchida as a performer, the rest of the festival revealed her influence as a mentor. For more than two decades she was a leader of Marlboro Music, a summer program for young artists, and she gave much of the Ojai property to Marlboro alumni such as cellist Jay Campbell (Jay Campbell) and violinist Alexi Kenney.

But they’re not the only young musicians Uchida supports. Here are some of the people who attended the festival’s dozen concerts in 72 hours.

Campbell plays cello in the Jack Quartet, a group whose adventurous and collective spirit would make him an ideal group music director for Ojai. (The quartet has appeared at the festival.) As a soloist, though, Campbell is an ambassador of musical possibility.

His highlight performance was an 8 a.m. concert at the idyllic Mount Baysant School outside Ojai and at the town’s Chaparral Auditorium. On Saturday, in a performance billed as a morning meditation, he played a version of Catherine Lamb’s “The Additive Arrow,” one of the festival’s high points.

Throughout Lamb’s 30-minute piece, Campbell played steady drones with frequencies that were multiples of 10, in natural harmony with each other. A microphone was placed outside on the lawn, facing the street, transmitting any passing sounds to the laptop inside; from there, the speakers emitted sounds that the microphone picked up at specific frequencies, but with an amplitude range that could capture anything from birds to pickup trucks. power difference between them. Normally, this would pit control and chaos against each other, but Lamb strikes a tantalizing balance between the two.

The stability and clarity of Campbell’s bow require the kind of concentration that has long made minimalism both difficult and rewarding for players; you can tell from his focused, meditative expression how much music means to him strong influence.

Elsewhere, he performed a work by Helmut Lachenmann that explored the nature of sound production: “Toccatina,” in which Campbell strikes the strings of a cello with the spiral end of his bow, and gently pulling on the instrument’s scroll and tailpiece; “Pression” is an ASMR-like tune in which fingernails scrape the strings and scratch the wooden body of the cello. A crow in a nearby tree seemed angry, but Campbell’s human audience was clearly rapt, following his every move.

When Campbell played Sofia Gubaidulina’s duet “In Croce” he was joined by accordionist Ljubinka Kulisic, who brought dazzling artistry throughout the festival to an instrument with a rich history in folk and classical music Charm and depth.

“In Croce” opens with the high tones and lilting sounds of an accordion, a slide of cello-like arpeggios and harmonies. Kulisic plays the character again and again, as if in a trance, until Campbell cuts into it with a descending phrase. Then, as she unleashes a wide range of colors, he is pushed to the extremes of passion and power, until finally, he embraces her subject from the beginning.

Even more interesting is Kulisic’s description of John Zorn’s solo “Road Runner,” a brief piece that plays like a shuffled anarchic playlist of familiar tunes with big improvisations Space to create and guidance to make mistakes. She took it all in with a comedic spirit, smiling as the audience chuckled at recognizing the tunes from standards and pop culture, then suddenly veering off to something new or slamming her hands on the notes. group on.

At a meditation concert on Sunday morning, she played a less nervous performance of John Cage’s works: “Dreams” and “Souvenir” were filled with long, concise phrases interspersed with dense, harmonious chords. “Cheap Imitation” is a treatment of Satie that exploits the manipulation of chance, it is conversational, wandering, welcoming at first and quiet at the end.

Morning shows including “In Croce” also feature sensitive percussionist Sae Hashimoto on Lachenmann’s “Intérieur I”. It’s a kaleidoscopic journey of sound production that’s so athletic that when Hashimoto drops the mallet and picks it up to play the next note without missing a beat, she looks more like a girl from Dancers who recover from mistakes, not instrumentalists.

On Sunday at Libbey Park, she performed Sarriaho’s “Six Japanese Gardens,” a gorgeous sonic portrait of a real place, and in this performance she also seemed to capture Hashimoto’s technique: she The changing timbres in an unwavering steady beat; her voice; her music; her music; her music; her music; her music; her music; her music; her music; ;her music;her music;her music;her music;her music;her music;her music;her music;her music;her music;her voice;her music;her her music; her music; her music; her music; her voice; her music; her balance of concentration and fluid movement; her magical grace that makes one feel both dynamic and still at the same time .

Of this year’s young Ojai artists, Kenny’s success has been the most mixed. Together with soprano Lucy Fitz Gibbon (another Marlboro veteran), his reading of Georg Kurtag’s “Kafka Fragments” was by turns silly, shocking, mysterious and profound. But “Shifting Ground,” his two-part multimedia recital at the festival, was a messy attempt at theatrical performance.

In a black box space at the Ojai Valley School, Kenny plays in front of a white curtain used as a projection screen for the artist’s announcement. The program is built around Bach’s Chaconne, the monumental finale of the Partita No. 2 in D minor, he wrote in an artist statement. A few years ago, he had a similar idea for a great show at New York’s 92nd Street Y; however, this concert was more digressive, featuring Angélica Negrón’s “The Violinist” (The Violinist), a piece for violin and electronica with voiceover by comedian Ana Fabrega, tells the story of a musical nightmare. It’s charming, but it also reduces Kenny to a soundtrack performer.

Kenny is on the right track, though, in thinking critically about the format of the recital. He is curious and willing to experiment, which reflects the commitment he already shows in his playing.

Sitting in the seats on either side of the theater, you could almost ignore the video art and focus on the purely technical side of his art, which was even more evident in Bieber’s “Pasacaglia” on Sunday. It’s a style buried in “Shifting Ground”: Kenny breathes the melody with his bow and body, often relaxing into postures that express not emotion but inner feeling. Like his Bach, Biber can be impatient, but only because it is intuitive, less studied than embodied.

The performance was reminiscent of a brief but deeply communicative recital by Uchida. She may be traditional by comparison, but as his mentor she can teach him a lesson: sometimes all an audience needs is good music and good musicians.

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