Cal Performances presents 2014 Ojai North Music Festival

The University of California, Berkeley’s Cal Performances is presenting the fourth annual Ojai North Music Festival, the Northern California extension of a musical extravaganza that launched almost 70 years ago in the Southern California town of Ojai to highlight musical creativity and innovation, Thursday through Saturday (June 19-21).

Each year, one artist is chosen as the festival’s music director and curates the program in Ojai and at UC Berkeley based on their own interests and insights. This year’s director is pianist and author, Jeremy Denk, a 2013 MacArthur Fellow, recipient of the 2014 Avery Fisher Prize and Musical Americas Instrumentalist of the Year. Denk describes this year’s program as offering “music of great reverence and transcendence and music of great irreverence.”

Musical director Jeremy Denk.

Music director Jeremy Denk.

Highlighting the festival will be Denk and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Steven Stucky’s new comic opera, “The Classical Style: An Opera (of Sorts)”, which was co-commissioned by the Ojai Music Festival, Cal Performances, Carnegie Hall and the Aspen Music Festival and School. It premiered on June 13 in Ojai and will have its Northern California premiere this Friday and Saturday.

Denk said he extracted some of his favorite passages from Charles Rosen’s book, “The Classical Style,” a scholarly study of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, to create a libretto in which the passages would manifest in “surreal or comic thought experiments, in which the elements of music themselves and the composers who are long dead would come to life…and get up to all sorts of trouble.”

A scene from The Classical Style shows (left to right) baritone Kim Josephson as Charles Rosen, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Zetlan as Mozart, tenor Dominic Armstrong as Haydn, and bass-baritone Ashraf Sewailam as Beethoven in The Classical Style: An Opera (of Sorts), co-commissioned by Cal Performances, making its Bay Area premiere at Ojai North Music Festival (Photo by David Bazemore for the Ojai Music Festival.)

A scene from The Classical Style shows (left to right) baritone Kim Josephson as Charles Rosen, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Zetlan as Mozart, tenor Dominic Armstrong as Haydn, and bass-baritone Ashraf Sewailam as Beethoven in The Classical Style: An Opera (of Sorts), co-commissioned by Cal Performances, making its Bay Area premiere at Ojai North Music Festival (Photo by David Bazemore for the Ojai Music Festival.)

The idea, said Denk is to capture Rosen’s insights about Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven that have become part of accepted wisdom about their music and “have some fun with the classical canon at the same time.”

Five distinct concerts

The festival is presented by Cal Performances and is made up of five distinct concerts, including two performances of “The Classical Style.” Four other concerts will feature an array of musicians, including jazz pianist Uri Caine and his ensemble in his “Mahler Re-Imagined”; new music ensemble The Knights, a cappella quartet Hudson Shad, pianist/composer Timo Andres, and contemporary string quartet Brooklyn Rider, performing works by Mozart, Beethoven, Feldman, Stockhausen, Ligeti and Ives.

Vocalist Storm Large will perform Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s satirical 1933 ballet chanté “The Seven Deadly Sins” in English, plus a late-night set of cabaret songs at the Faculty Club, a landmark redwood structure set in the trees edging Faculty Glade and adjacent to Hertz Hall.

Storm Large will perform in a cabaret setting at the Faculty Club.

Storm Large will perform in a cabaret setting at the Faculty Club.

Denk will be at the piano on two of the programs, first alternating sections of Leoš Janáček’s “On an Overgrown Path”with Schubert’s “Moments musicaux,” juxtaposing piano masterworks from the dawn of Romanticism and its twilight, and second at the final concert of the festival, performing both books of György Ligeti’s “Piano Études” and Beethoven’s beloved “Fantasy for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra.”

Talking with the artists

A series of three pre-performance talks featuring the festival’s artists will be held outside Hertz Hall at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, and on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Friday evening’s program will feature Cal Performances director Matías Tarnopolsky in conversation with Denk, Stucky and Mary Birnbaum, a New York City-based stage director of theater and opera who is directing “The Classical Style.”

Boxed lunches and dinners will be available for festival-goers to buy on Saturday.

For a complete schedule of festival concerts and talks, as well as the campus locations, go to http://calperformances.org/performances/2013-14/ojai/ojai-north.php. Most programs will take place in Hertz Hall. A campus map is online.