For Ojai at Berkeley music fest, the drumbeat goes on

Cal Performances presents the fifth annual Ojai at Berkeley music festival — formerly known as Ojai North — on June 18–20, bringing to the UC Berkeley campus the nearly 70-year-old annual musical extravaganza home-based in the Southern California town of Ojai.

This year’s music director, Steven Schick, the first to be a percussionist, is also an ensemble leader, author and music professor at UC San Diego. The program he has curated focuses on music of the 20th and 21st centuries. Highlights include the Bay Area premiere of John Luther Adams’ Sila: The Breath of the World, inspired by the Inuit concept of sila, a world-animating spirit, and a celebration of Pierre Boulez’s 90th birthday with several concerts devoted to his influences and music.

Wu Man plays the pipa, a four-stringed Chinese lute.

Wu Man will play the pipa, a four-stringed Chinese lute, in several concerts during the Ojai at Berkeley music festival. (Stephen Kahn photo)

Opening night Thursday, June 18, begins with a free outdoor in-the-round performance of Sila on Faculty Glade, followed by a Zellerbach Hall performance of A Pierre Dream: A Portrait of Pierre Boulez, with Schick conducting the International Contemporary Ensemble and mezzo-soprano Peabody Southwell. Rare documentary footage of Boulez from the 1960s to the present will be projected to accompany the music.

Later in the festival, performances of works by Bartók, Messiaen, Ravel and Varèse will illuminate several of Boulez’s musical influences.

On Friday, June 19, percussion takes center stage with an evening of solo percussion music by Schick from six composers: Iannis Xenakis, Vinko Globokar, David Lang, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Roland Auzet. Later that evening, Wu Man, on pipa, a four-stringed Chinese lute, will perform pieces by Varèse and Boulez with Joshua Rubin on clarinet.

Earlier Friday, a second free concert will feature a performance of Trans, another percussive work, for “soloist and audience,” composed by Pulitzer Prize finalist Lei Lang, directed by Schick and featuring flutist Claire Chase.

The festival wraps up Saturday evening with a medley of works by composers Julia Wolfe, Lou Harrison, Carlos Chávez and Alberto Ginastera. Schick conducts the San Diego-based ensemble Renga for Wolfe’s Four Marys and Harrison’s Concerto for Pipa with String Orchestra, featuring Wu Man as soloist. They will be followed by Ginastera’s Cantata para América Mágica, performed by Southwell and a percussion orchestra that includes the International Contemporary Ensemble, red fish blue fish (founded by Schick) and pianists Gloria Cheng and Vicki Ray.

Public conversations and panels with some of the musical artists — Ojai at Berkeley Talks — are planned for June 19 and 20 at 5 p.m.