BLOGLINER NOTES ARTIST BIOS BOOK REVIEWS CV SHOP

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Ojai Diaries: Part Two

Brother Dave and I missed the 11pm set by recorder quartet QNG; we were eager to return to the motel and get some important drinking done. I had been making a halfhearted effort to talk Dave into Music for 18 Musicians the next morning (he is not a Reich fan), but when the sun actually returned I said blahhhh and rolled back over. A favorite piece, and almost always worth seeing live, but not, today, worth subjecting a reluctant sibling to an hour of pulses AND, yknow, getting out of bed. We went for a walk on Ventura Beach instead. We stumbled, almost literally, upon not one but two rotting seal carcasses! One was headless. We also went to see Drag Me to Hell, which was hugely entertaining, even though I guessed the final plot twist a mile away. (SPOILER: Somebody gets dragged to Hell.) Somewhere in there I also posted my update on the previous day's concerts, even though the Good Nite Inn of Camarillo did not manage to get our $5 in-room WiFi working (did they try switching it off and then on again? That ALWAYS works), so I had to run down and post from the lobby, which had a Free WiFi Hotspot also. After all that, lunch and some shopping, it was time for the MARATHON CONCERT FINALE. I wore a special New Music outfit, which consisted of relish-stained khakis plus my GAP t-shirt with Chuck Close's pointillist Philip Glass portrait on it worn under a semi-transparent white dress shirt, so that my midsection gave the fascinating illusion of being haunted by the ghostly apparition of Philip Glass. Did you see me there? Who were you? I think Sidney Chen (of Standing Room fame) and I spotted each other, but I am basing this entirely on this person's resemblance to M. C-'s South Park avatar, since I have never met him, and I was so anxious of saying ARE YOU M. C-? and its turning out not to have been him that I did not approach him and instead just leered weirdly, from a distance, in much the same fashion as how that baby with the unibrow eyeballs Maggie Simpson on The Simpsons. Sorry about that. Our seats this time around were much closer, which was a plus—more live sound in our ears—and we were on the keyboard side. Also, our seats had cushions on them now. People, if you go to Ojai, CUSHION YOUR ASSES, I cannot stress that enough. Those benches are BEASTLY. We were probably warned of this on some portion of the festival website that I was too lazy to read. One thing I did miss about our new seats was the awesome folks that had been sitting next to us. Right, right next to us on Saturday was an attractive middle-aged couple who, by the time I saw them again Sunday afternoon, seemed to have attended every event of the festival so far; the husband was, like me, a religious reader of the Denkalog, and was rightly proud to have contributed this highly amusing objet. (Rereading it now, I see that I was moved to comment on that same post!) There was another lady right there who knew some of my faculty from 'SC, and another who told me something fascinating about Frank Gehry, which I've promptly forgotten, and so on. One lady thanked me for "bringing positive energy." This is what I'm talking about when I tell you that this Ojai crowd is fricken awesome. Also? There was some music. III. Double Sextet was FIERCE. This performance of the dodectet version of topped the NYC gig I saw for precision and intensity. I think they sold Dave on Reich, honestly. I keep telling everybody it's one of Steve Reich's best new pieces, and 100% deserving of its Pulitzer Prize, but NOBODY BELIEVES ME. Please believe me, kids. Then Jeremy Denk and Lucy Shelton went through a bunch of Stravinsky songs, whose Russian somehow issued from Shelton's lips as naturally as Pierrot's German did. Her voice was a bit worn in spots, like your favorite coat, and I worried about whether certain notes were even getting picked up by the mike, but there was no questioning the warmth and authority of her interpretation. The next tune, a Lee Hyla duet for bari sax and bass clarinet (We Speak Etruscan), wanted more authority—the Mac played what seemed to be an atrociously difficult part with the stamina and dexterity of an athlete, but I wished he could have brought the part the same degree of assured style that he brought to the less virtuosic repertoire. Okay, I mean, whatever: it was dazzling just to see him and Jeremy Ruthrauff skronk their way through the bebop-damaged daredevilry. It is probably around this point that I should mention that Maccaferri looked GREAT this summer. Better than I remembered. I melted. (Call me.) Then QNG took the stage—they turned out to be a quartet of attractive Dutch women, well made-up, who wore matching black babydoll tees with their ensemble's acronym on the front and their own group photo on the back. The first piece in their set, by Victor Ekimovskij, was conceptually simple and wholly pleasurable—it put me in mind of Larry Polansky's four-part canons. All four players played the same, highly repetitive material one after the other, on soprano recorders, from four positions surrounding the audience on the benches. The parts kept pace with each other, but didn't seem to be synchronized to a common pulse, and the delight stemmed from hearing the texture of the piece change gradually, one voice at a time, as each of the players moved on to the next transformation of the material. The sweet tootling of the recorders in the open air also recalled, of course, the singing of happy little birds (the piece was called Kites Flying). Afterwards, a more traditional seating arrangement for the more traditional recorder-quartet fare, the famous In Nomine of John Taverner (John Taverner is the dead, great one; John Tavener is the alive, but only occasionally satisfying one), and then finally another recent piece, Tall P by Pete Rose (whose name must invite even more confusion and/or dumb jokes than poor John Tavener's). Tall P wasn't a stupid piece, not at all, but I took an instant dislike to its campy jazz references, for the most part overly familiar elements like a heavyhanded walking bass and a 12-bar blues form. "Encore!" shouted one of my neighbors, when it was over. "Encore!" But I thought we'd just heard the encore: the piece didn't, say, invite the audience to probe into its structure or harmonies, it was a vehicle for the awesome virtuosity of the performers, who bent their blue notes with a facility that almost made me dizzy. Their ensemble was bewitching. I kicked myself for missing their Paul Moravec the night before. And then, the intermission. More soon.

1 comment:

Nissim Schaul said...

QNG are incredible, aren't they? [can I note that the preceding sentence caused me all kinds of grammatical anguish?] You don't expect much from a recorder quartet, but seeing them play a few years ago kind of changed my life. (helped me get on my Baroque instruments kick) I was going to give you hell for skipping out on them, but I see you have sufficiently self-excoriated at the end.

Nice reporting! Makes me wish I were out there!