sunset over the Ojai Music Festival

The 70th annual Ojai Music Festival drew fans and musicians from all over to celebrate contemporary classical music in several beautiful settings.

A banner advertising the 2016 Ojai Music Festival

Before the festival began, I sat down with this year’s Music Director Peter Sellars and New Yorker Music Critic Alex Ross. Peter told me how he mined Ojai for inspiration and Alex told me how Ojai compares to festivals around the world.



Here are more snapshots from

the 2016 Ojai Music Festival:

Ojai Music Festival Music Director Peter Sellars and Singer Julia Bullock

Peter Sellars and soprano Julia Bullock, star of the chamber opera La Passion de Simone.

Nancy and Barry Sanders

Nancy & Barry Sanders are festival regulars and Barry is on the festival’s Board of Directors. I asked them both what they’re looking forward to and Nancy said, “hearing music I’ve never heard before and understanding a little better where it’s from and what it’s about. Barry added, “I think it’s a great opportunity to hear not just music that is new and different, but also music of that sort that’s been curated by one of the most creative minds in the world, Peter Sellars–so that you have a coherence in the program that I’m sure we’ll see and understand as it develops, but couldn’t imagine what it would be like in advance.” 

Composer Kaija Saariaho with KUSC's Gail Eichenthal

Composer Kaija Saariaho (here with KUSC’s Gail Eichenthal) is the composer of the opening night’s chamber opera La Passion de Simone.

Richard Koshalek at the 2016 Ojai Music Festival

“In 1986, MOCA’s first theater event was a production of Peter Sellars’ Zangezi. Peter’s exploratory instincts are something I’ve always admired. And I like the fact that he goes places most people don’t go. If you’re interested in discovering what’s next, what’s new, you better stick very close to Peter Sellars. I know of nobody that has that kind of expansive view and really is very much engaged in the larger world. He’s truly a global intellectual. And Ojai is a place that’s open. A place that Peter can feel very comfortable in. Peter is an artist himself, he’s not just a promoter or a producer – -not just somebody who organizes an event. He’s an artist himself.”

Richard Koshalek, former Director of Moca and Art Center

Composer Andrew Norman at the 2016 Ojai Music Fesitval

“It’s a pleasure to be here. The Composer Fellowship Program is something the LA Phil started about 10 years ago with the composer Steven Stucky. The idea was to nurture the youngest composers we have, and introduce them to the orchestra and give them experience in the ways of writing music and how to communicate with musicians. Right now we several levels and about 16 high school-age composers in this program, and we have graduates who have gone on to the highest levels in the field.

Several of the composers currently in the program have written pieces for the ensemble called ICE, and each of these pieces explore some very new and innovative ways of using these instruments. We really encouraged our students to be as creative, as imaginative, as boundary-breaking as they could possibly be.

Architecture is something I’m interested in, and I think all of music is architectural in that it deals with the idea of giving form to an experience and sound. We talk about that a lot in the group. Even though I’m only 15 years older than these composers, I feel like they grew up in a very different world and their ears work in a different way. Their minds are wired differently than mine. It’s so exciting to see them figure out how to express themselves in music. Everything is so fresh, and new and exciting. It’s been particularly wonderful to work with ICE, because we have musicians who are completely like-minded in their willingness to explore sound, how sound is organized, and how sound can be made to be expressive in all these very new and interesting ways.

For our young composers to have a piece in the Ojai Festival, performed at the Libbey Bowl, these kids who are 15, 16 or 17– this is amazing. I’m so happy for them and for the audience for what we can share together.

This position directing the Fellowship Program is my dream job. It’s always been my dream job, ever since I knew of this program. For me, it’s about continuing this wonderful legacy that Steven Stucky started in nurturing these composers in a very in-depth way, but also broadening it, so that we get the largest possible group of young people interested in writing music.”

Andrew Norman, Composer, USC Professor and Director of the LA Phil’s Composer Fellowship Program for high school composers. 

Andrew Norman, Peter Sellars, and young composers at the 2016 Ojai Music Festival


Sue Bienkowski

“My reaction to this festival is the same reaction I have every year: I come here because I want to hear music of our time, and music that makes me think, and challenges me. It happens every year and I love it. That’s what I’m on the board and why I support new music in Los Angeles.”

Sue Bienkowski, Ojai Music Festival Board of Directors Vice Chair and patron of new music 

Rodney Punt at the 2016 Ojai Music Festival

“This is an exciting festival for a variety of reasons. Some have called it a festival of great women composers, I would call it a festival of great composers that happen to be women. We’re looking at a ratio of about 75% to 25% female musicians and creators to male musicians and creators. We have compositions by Kaija Saariaho, one of the greatest composers alive today, AND Caroline Shaw, an up-and-comer who’s doing wonderful work, AND Julia Bullock, a super star of the moment and for many years to come, all here in Ojai. It comes at a time when we are entertaining the notion of electing our first female president, and have spokespeople like Senator Elizabeth Warren giving speeches slaying the prejudices that we see around and trumpeted by other parties running for president. So it’s the zeitgeist — a moment in time when women are emerging in every field of human endeavor as the solution to a lot of the world’s problems. I find it a little bit ironic that two old white guys are the ones that are behind the hiring and I’m looking forward to a Music Director who might have a more feminine sensibility in the not-too-distant future.”

Rodney Punt, music critic for Classical Voice North America

The Festival-ending Street Party Jam

The Ojai Music Festival ended with a Street Party Jam Session on Main Street, Santa Paula.


photos courtesy Susie Goodman

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