The Ojai Music Festival announced Tuesday that Steven Schick will be its music director for 2015 – the first percussionist so honored by the annual June classical music festival, which dates back to 1947. The Ojai Festival is known for mixing new and canonical works in pursuit of its mission “to provide innovative musical programming that defines what is relevant today.”
Also announced were the music directors for 2016 and 2017: opera house and concert hall luminaries Peter Sellars and Esa-Pekka Salonen. Each music director teams with the Ojai Music Festival's artistic director, Thomas W. Morris, to pick the performers and the program.
Pianist Jeremy Denk is the music director for the 2014 festival that will run June 12-15. And yes, the piano is technically a percussion instrument, but no, a player probably won't get much applause by spending a concert belaboring the keys with mallets, sticks or fists.
Schick's directorship is expected to include performing and conducting as well as curating. He's a music professor at UC San Diego and is founder and artistic director of the percussion ensemble red fish blue fish – possibly the only classical music group whose moniker honors that great San Diegan, Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel.
He's also an alumnus of the new music group Bang on a Can All-Stars, and a performer in several past Ojai Music festivals, including 2011, when soprano Dawn Upshaw was music director, and 2012, when Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes took charge.
Opera director Sellars is an old hand at coordinating festivals, including the 1990 and 1993 Los Angeles Arts Festivals that tried to recapture the magic of the acclaimed citywide arts component of the 1984 L.A. summer Olympiad. But he'll be the first opera or theater director to serve as the Ojai Festival's music director, said festival spokeswoman Gina Gutierrez. The Ojai Festival also sounded an interdisciplinary chord with its 2013 pick for music director, choreographer Mark Morris.
Sellars’ Ojai connection dates back to 1992, when he staged Stravinsky’s “History du Soldat” under music director Pierre Boulez. The 2011 festival included Sellars’ staging of “The Winds of Destiny,” composer George Crumb’s song cycle based on American folk songs, spirituals and songs from the Civil War, with Upshaw singing and Schick’s red fish blue fish group playing the music, augmented by a pianist.
Salonen's 2017 music directorship will be his third at the Ojai Music Festival. In 1999 and 2001 he became the only sitting music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic to also handle the assignment at Ojai – hand-picked by Ernest Fleischmann, who retired as the Phil's executive director in 1998 but kept a hand in as artistic director of the Ojai Festival from 1998 to 2003.