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Jeremy Denk Discusses 2014 Ojai Music Festival

The 68th Ojai Music Festival, which takes place next June, will feature programming conceived by the festival’s 2014 Music Director, Jeremy Denk. Ojai recently announced details of the four-day festival (June 12–15, 2014) in a news release available here: www.ojaifestival.org/category/press-2. From that announcement comes this introduction to the festival, in the pianist’s own words:

“The idea of Ojai 2014 emerged from a couple of immediate enthusiasms. One was an album that I had always loved by the jazz pianist and musical thinker Uri Caine: Primal Light, in which he takes Mahler and explodes him, or implodes him, I can’t exactly decide which. He takes things that are already in Mahler – a sense of dislocation, of frenetic collage, of all the anxiety of the 20th century and modernism and yet some tenderness vying against it all – and does collages on that cluster of techniques, in a way turning Mahler inside out. Tom Morris [Ojai’s Artistic Director] and I agreed we loved Uri Caine, and he will be the first night of the festival.

“The other was a dream I had of doing an opera.  An opera in which principles of music – harmony, structure – and the big three composers (Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven), not to mention various disgruntled young musicians, would find themselves in conversation, immersed or enmeshed or mired in an opera buffa, with all its implausibility and silliness and artifice. Although those of us who perform and love this music like to cultivate an air of seriousness, at times we have to realize there is something ridiculous about the level to which we’ve subjected this music to consideration, analysis, thought. The opera buffa genre is simply a way of exposing this absurdity, turning music inside out to reflect on itself, with hopefully hilarious and intriguing results. The self-awareness of music.

“The common thread between these two enthusiasms is essentially screwing (to use the polite word) with the canon. To that end, a lot of the other pieces in the Festival are canonical in peculiar ways, or have a very uneasy relationship with the canon. The Ligeti Etudes (favorite works of mine) are what you might call “new classics,” and they take up the Chopin, Schumann, Scarlatti, and merge them with the remorseless logic of the machine, the complexity of fractals. Uri Caine is going to create a “realization” of the 14 canons that Bach wrote on the first eight bass notes of the Goldberg Variation ground, pieces that begin as simple lessons in counterpoint and then gradually become ever more intense, chromatic, and – you might even say – delightfully perverse. Leading to these canons will be scatological canons of Mozart, elaborate canons by Josquin and Thomas Adès and Nancarrow – from the sublime to the ridiculous.

“A generation of young Brooklyn composers will be heard, confronting the problems of style in a time when there is no style to speak of. And of course, my perennial favorite iconoclast, Charles Ives, will be represented by the four violin sonatas, ranging from the polite and poetic (“weak stepsister” I believe Ives called his own more lyrical work) to the deranged and confrontational.”