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Ojai Music Festival names L.A. Phil's Chad Smith as artistic director

Ojai Music Festival names L.A. Phil's Chad Smith as artistic director
Los Angeles Philharmonic Chief Operating Officer Chad Smith has been named the new artistic director of the Ojai Music Festival. (Mathew Imaging / Mathew Imaging)

Chad Smith, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s chief operating officer, has been named artistic director of the Ojai Music Festival for a three-year term to start in 2020, the festival will announce Wednesday.

Smith will take over in Ojai for Thomas W. Morris, who is retiring in 2019 after 16 years in the position. Smith will continue to serve in his post at the L.A. Phil while beginning work with Ojai’s 2020 music director, Matthias Pintscher.

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“The things that I care about — supporting adventurous work and artists who are pushing boundaries — is something Ojai has been doing since its founding in 1947,” Smith said in an interview. “So when I got the invitation, I thought, ‘I have to make this work.’ ”

Smith’s term will include the 75th anniversary of the festival he said he has loved since 2001, when he first visited Ojai as an assistant to San Francisco Symphony Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas. Esa-Pekka Salonen, then music director of the L.A. Phil, was music director of the Ojai Festival, and Smith still vividly remembers the scene.

“There was this incredible sense of optimism about the future of contemporary music, and music in general,” Smith said. “It was this utopian vision of making music in this beautiful town — this uncompromising singular kind of music — and this real sense of camaraderie shared between the audience and the performers onstage.”

The four-day festival has built a reputation for assembling cutting-edge artists who make innovative, world-class music.The idea that he could step into the same role as other Ojai alumni, including Lawrence Morton, Ara Guzelimian and Ernest Fleischmann, would have been unfathomable at the time, Smith said.

He said he intends to honor the festival’s heritage while looking for novel ways to expand upon it.

“Crucial to Ojai’s legacy is this idea of reinvention and change, and I hope we’ll begin finding ways to build on that,” he said.

In the meantime, his immediate goal is to study past programming, gathering data and talking to former music directors to find out how they each shaped their visions for the event.

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