Friday Nite: Not Light

One of the Ojai Music Festival’s missions is to test limits and often go beyond them to foster creativity and innovation, and their loyal audience expects and wants it, even when differing opinions and taste can lead to lively debates – it’s all part of the deal. The west coast premiere of George Lewis’s opera “Afterword” was probably the most controversial presentation of this year’s Festival, and there were sharply divergent reactions. Lewis’s far reaching libretto about the emergence and eventual triumph of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, a collective of African American composers and artists founded in Chicago, was accompanied by his thorny and often dissonant (to some) score. Sung with beauty and verve by soprano Joelle Lamarre, contralto Gwendolyn Brown and tenor Julian Otis, the opera connected the African American experience, from slavery to today, with the struggles this important arts group faced. As some critics have noted, the opera could use some editing and at times the libretto seems at odds with the telling of the story, and with the music. Many in the audience were thrilled by the OMF performance, others, not so much. The free late night concert, a regular feature on Friday and Saturday nights, was titled “Bach and Beyond” a fitting bit of programming reflecting the true spirit of this festival. Jennifer Koh, alone on the stage flanked by two huge mics, took us from Bach’s Partita in D Minor to Essa-Pekka Salonen’s “Lachen Veriernt” for solo violin. Her virtuosic playing became more and more energetic as she moved form the master who set the standard for classical music to 20th century works by composers who have set the standards for contemporary “classical” music. Ms. Koh gave a scintillating performance of some breathtakingly demanding works.