OJAI, Calif. — “We’re a number of, fractious and free,” a trio of voices sang with mock formality right here on Saturday night. “We name you to the desk of a loving household.”
As a mission assertion for the 2022 Ojai Music Festival, you possibly can hardly do higher. Annually this four-day occasion is programmed by a completely different music director — it may very well be a violinist, a conductor, a composer — who leaves a stamp on the choices.
This time, the stamp was collective. This fertile, post-bohemian valley north of Los Angeles was swarmed final week by the fast-rising American Modern Opera Company — often called AMOC, pronounced as in working … properly, you realize.
Many within the arts lately discuss a huge recreation about interdisciplinary collaboration, however few stroll the stroll like AMOC, which counts composers, choreographers, dancers, singers, instrumentalists and a stage director amongst its 17 core members.
At its greatest — whether or not performing a zany new pop musical concerning the fall of Rome; a witty dance theater piece about rehearsing; or the extraordinary, expansive music of Julius Eastman — AMOC is a celebration, a communal occurring, a household dinner.
Pursuing a imaginative and prescient of opera as free-floating, evenly staged assemblages greater than conventional score-and-libretto productions, AMOC works in shifting configurations. A lot of these had been showcased right here final weekend in a vary of areas — in and out, beneath the broiling noon solar and, extra fortunately, the gentle stars.
How tightknit is that this group? As Ojai proved, sufficient to confidently execute difficult, sprawling structured improvisations by George E. Lewis (skittish) and Roscoe Mitchell (luminous) — at 8 within the morning.
THERE IS NOTHING IN music fairly like Ojai, now three-quarters of a century outdated, with that packed morning-to-night-schedule, its number of areas and the stalwart curiosity of its viewers. Led by Ara Guzelimian with a regular hand, the competition is Southern California relaxed — T-shirts and shorts, possibly a hoodie at night time — however the repertory tends rigorous and recondite.
Even the warning that a live performance is about to start isn’t the same old docile bells, however a spreading roar of electronics from “Répons” by Pierre Boulez, a tutelary spirit right here for many years.
Hypercomplex Boulezian modernism wasn’t on supply this yr: The composer Matthew Aucoin, who based AMOC in 2017 with the director Zack Winokur, wrote witheringly in The New York Assessment not way back concerning the “supersaturated sameness” of Boulez’s music.
Then what was the prevailing model? In maintaining with the openness of many younger artists now, it was broad. Variations of folks music had been in — together with spirituals, the violinist Keir GoGwilt’s feathery fiddling renditions of Scottish ballads, and Aucoin’s hoedown “Shaker Dance.”
So was play with texts, together with explorations of how singing and spoken phrase might share house in a musical context. However the largest new items on this vein — Carolyn Chen’s collaboration with the poet Divya Victor, and Anthony Cheung’s “The Echoing of Tenses” — would profit from prudent trims.
VARIOUS FACETS AND MOODS of Minimalism and its legacy had been represented, together with Philip Glass songs and, carried out in the midst of Libbey Park, a part of Tom Johnson’s 1979 solo “9 Bells.” That featured the percussionist Jonny Allen jogging a exact route across the bells, hitting a regularly evolving riff — typically with delicacy, typically with violence.
To roiling music, Frederic Rzewski’s “Coming Collectively” (1971) harps on its textual content, a letter written by an Attica inmate who died within the rebellion there, spoken with ironic bravado right here by the bass-baritone Davóne Tines, the weekend’s most useful participant. A really completely different definition of the minimal: On Sunday morning, there was a uncommon alternative to listen to Hans Otte’s “The Ebook of Sounds,” a solo piano epic from the late Nineteen Seventies and early ’80s, performed by Conor Hanick with management and sensitivity.
The fabric right here is deceptively easy: undulating strains, typically slowed to expansive chords and typically sped to a Glass-style arpeggiated flood. The harmonies subtly thicken and skinny; the feelings stay ambiguous, the temper meditative.
The birds within the bushes across the outside Libbey Bowl, the competition’s predominant house, added sparkles, and acoustical illusions started to emerge from Otte’s trance; I might have sworn, close to the top, that a mellow horn name was popping out of the piano textures. And on Saturday morning, rotating your head, because the cellist Jay Campbell urged, introduced out completely different pitches from the densely vibrating combine when he performed Catherine Lamb’s “Cross/Collapse” (2010), his lengthy drones hovering beside oscillating digital tones.
AS GOOD AS ANYTHING this weekend was Andrew McIntosh’s “Little Jimmy” (2020), a quartet for 2 pianists and two percussionists that takes its title from a campsite within the San Gabriel Mountains. McIntosh made discipline recordings there a few months earlier than it was devastated by a hearth, and the ensuing piece is a subtly rending reflection on the local weather disaster, and what might be salvaged from ashes.
Restrained in his deployment of the recordings, McIntosh conjures an enigmatic, shadowy, quietly colourful world, typically bone-dry, typically softly shimmering. Piano strings are manipulated with fishing line for a metallic whine; bowing a vibraphone whereas a tubular bell is gently struck finally ends up sounding like how a shiver feels.
Attending Ojai this yr, you may need been satisfied that no music was written from about 1800 to 1970. The early-to-contemporary pipeline was in full swing right here, with interval and trendy devices mixing freely. Composers together with Cassandra Miller, Michael Hersch, Kate Soper and Reiko Füting performed with vintage kinds and fragments; Ruckus, a small Baroque band that shares members with AMOC, was a visitor all through the weekend, becoming a member of the flutist Emi Ferguson, her tone silky and tender and her ghostly multiphonics astonishing, in spirited Bach on Saturday morning.
Among the weekend’s collaborations had been extra honest than profitable. It wasn’t clear what sudden, stretching choreography added to Allen’s already entrancing motion in “9 Bells” or in Iannis Xenakis’s “Rebonds.” There was a whiff of trying-it-out school theater in Chen’s “How one can Fall Aside” (a disco ball swings; a croissant is thrown) and within the dancer Or Schraiber’s “The Cello Participant” (a musician carries an armoire on his again; a metronome solemnly ticks).
However “Open Rehearsal,” directed by the choreographer and dancer Bobbi Jene Smith, felt extra nuanced. An outgrowth of Smith’s current work “Damaged Theater,” it’s a wry, typically uproarious and poignant metatheatrical riff on the method of creation.
The performers inhabit archetypes — the moody director, the attractive actor, the warring brothers — in charged, wild episodes that recommend auditioning, going by way of materials and placing it onstage. Life and artwork blur, as do conventional roles: Instrumentalists dance; dancers sing.
The piece had an vital absence: The excellent soprano Julia Bullock examined constructive for Covid simply earlier than flying to California. She would have been featured all through the weekend, and her staged model of Messiaen’s “Harawi” promised to be a spotlight.
IT SPEAKS TO AMOC’S agility and the depth of its bench that it was capable of exchange “Harawi” with Tines’s “Recital No. 1: Mass,” a mixing of soul songs and spirituals with Caroline Shaw’s swish settings of the phrases of the Latin Atypical. (Ariadne Greif valiantly stepped in for Bullock in different items.)
Although he sounded drained and muddy in two Bach arias, Tines was radiantly highly effective in “Mass,” his voice careening from ethereal to rock-solid in Moses Hogan’s “Give Me Jesus.” “Mass” charts a path from being misplaced to being healed — right here, by the use of Tines’s improvised, preacher-style account of what he described as a racially charged remark from an viewers member the night time earlier than.
He was additionally the magnetic heart in a Friday morning efficiency of works by Eastman, the once forgotten and now acclaimed gay, Black composer, that conveyed this music’s combination of sternness and exhilaration, its ingenuity and malleability.
Tines was commanding within the chanted exhortations of “Prelude to the Holy Presence of Joan d’Arc.” “Homosexual Guerrilla,” initially achieved on 4 pounding pianos, was right here extra kaleidoscopic with a extra different ensemble; its citation of the hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” normally performed, took on new efficiency when Tines belted it. Beginning out as a peppy jam, “Keep On It” moved towards a forceful march earlier than drifting into quiet, lilting elegy.
“We name you to the desk of a loving household” labored as metaphor — however for AMOC, it was additionally literal, evoking the meals which can be a fixture of the group’s annual Vermont retreats. The road was sung in Aucoin’s “Family Dinner,” given its premiere on Saturday. Billed as a set of mini-concertos evoking collective power and particular person skills, the piece felt like an awkwardly paced work in progress, its combination of instrumental passages, spoken textual content and poetry settings nonetheless discovering its kind, its ending an abrupt anticlimax.
The extra compelling household dinner was “Rome Is Falling,” Doug Balliett’s brainily bubble-gum, lovably shaggy rundown of historic historical past — and its apparent modern parallels — harking back to “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” and “Hamilton.” The performers had been grinning as a lot because the viewers was.
And, for household dessert, a reprise of “Keep On It” closed the competition early Sunday night. Presided over by Tines, it was a sweetly dancing, full-ensemble jamboree — like each Ojai and AMOC, a number of, fractious and free.