Chad Smith, newly named L.A. Phil chief, steps down from Ojai Music Festival post

Chad Smith, the Los Angeles Philharmonic's new CEO, will leave his position as artistic director of the Ojai Music Festival after the 2020 festival.
(Mathew Imaging)

Less than a month after being named chief executive of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Chad Smith is stepping down as artistic director of the Ojai Music Festival, board chairman Jerrold Eberhardt will announce on Thursday.

Ara Guzelimian, provost and dean of the Juilliard School, will be the festival’s new artistic director.

Smith will stay on as artistic director for the 2020 festival, after which Guzelimian will take over — in time for the 75th anniversary of the festival in 2021.


Smith’s future in Ojai was an immediate point of speculation once his elevation at the L.A. Phil was announced. The L.A. Phil schedule is particularly complicated because the orchestra does not take summers off but instead tours internationally and performs at the Hollywood Bowl.

Smith, who previously served as chief operating officer of the L.A. Phil, was appointed artistic director of the Ojai festival in March 2018. He said he soon will share details about the 2020 festival, which is scheduled for June 11 to 14 with Matthias Pintscher as music director.

“For nearly 75 years, the Ojai Music Festival has been a major platform for the world’s most probing, adventurous and visionary musicians,” Smith said in the announcement. “It is, therefore, bittersweet to step away from this incredible opportunity after the 2020 festival, but Ojai deserves the full creative energies of its artistic director and the L.A. Phil requires the singular focus of its CEO.”

Guzelimian already has announced his intention to step down from his position at Juilliard, and he comes to Ojai with plenty of relevant experience: He served as the artistic director of the Ojai Music Festival from 1992 to 1997.

Before Juilliard, Guzelimian was senior director and artistic adviser of Carnegie Hall from 1998 to 2006. He coordinated the artistic planning and programming for the opening of Carnegie’s Judy and Arthur Zankel Hall in 2003.

The Ojai Music Festival has become internationally renowned for groundbreaking experimental music by top composers and musicians. Longtime leader Thomas Morris elevated the intimate gathering to global significance before departing as artistic director last year.