Jazz star Maria Schneider, Grammy-winning composer and big band leader, makes her Ojai Music Festival debut at the 65th annual event with two concerts in Libbey Bowl, Sunday, June 12 at 11a.m and 5:30p.m.
The annual Southern California festival, June 9 though 12, usually features classical composers and performers. This year, however, music director, Dawn Upshaw is bringing together a wide-range of programs and artistic collaborations over the course of the four days.
On Sunday, 5:30, Schneider will offer the world premiere of Winter Morning Walks," composed especially for soprano Upshaw, who has been described as one of the most consequential performers of our time" by the Los Angeles Times. Performing with her in the premiere will be the Australian Chamber Orchestra.
Schneider says the commission was inspired by poetry of poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Ted Kooser. Unable to be in the sunlight because of his cancer treatments, Kooser took early morning walks, during which he wrote a series of postcards to a friend in which he transforms common things and daily events into well-timed and expertly sculpted poems. Making special appearances with Upshaw and the orchestra are Frank Kimbrough, noted jazz pianist, and Scott Robinson, versatile jazz musician who will play a variety of woodwinds. Both are regulars with Schneider's aggregation.
Kimbrough, contacted by phone in New York, said that he and Robinson will sit in with the Australian ensemble, as well as take improvised solos. After he rehearsed the new work in New York recently with Upshaw and Schneider, Kimbrough said: This is neither jazz nor classical but uniquely Maria's music." He went on: We'll also play this new composition the next week in Berkeley and then during a U.S. tour with Dawn and the Australian Chamber Orchestra in April, 2012."
For the 11a.m. concert, Schneider leads the 18-piece jazz orchestra, showcasing her work as a major American composer, along with her band members' improvisational abilities. Her music has been described as picturesque, colorful and often autobiographical, blurring the lines between jazz and classical. One of her major influences is the late Gil Evans, noted for his ground-breaking collaborations with Miles Davis.
Jazz fans will also have the chance to hear a special premiere of Mingus & Beyond" with a new group, Wahya Consort, at 4 p.m. at the Ojai Arts Center, adjacent to Libbey Bowl. The Consort includes vocalist Ellen Johnson, pianist Bevan Manson, percussionist Brad Dutz and bassist Rick Shaw, performing music of legendary bassist Charles Mingus, original compositions and lyrics.
In addition to Schneider's piece, this year's Ojai program Friday will include another world premiere, the new staging of George Crumb's Winds of Destiny (American Songbook IV)," with the celebrated Peter Sellars, directing. On Saturday, violinist Richard Togentti will be featured in a variety of contexts, while Upshaw, herself, will be appearing in each day's program.
For complete 2011 festival information, visit the web site at ojafestival.org or call (805) 646-2094.