Brett Campbell is senior editor at Oregon ArtsWatch, a frequent contributor to SFCV and many other publications, and coauthor, with Bill Alves, of Lou Harrison: American Musical Maverick (Indiana University Press 2017).
Articles by this Author
Lou Harrison called him “the central switchboard for two or three generations of American composers.” John Cage said he was the “open sesame” of American music. Yet Henry Cowell’s significance to American music remains unappreciated, even by most classical music fans. In his home state, Bay Area residents who recognize his name are unlikely to think that the Santa Cruz redwood forest is named for him, rather than, as it happens, for an unrelated lime/logging/land baron.
French music, the stereotype goes, prizes clarity, elegance, balance — in a word, gracefulness. Of course, exceptions are easy to find, but last weekend’s concerts titled “Les grâces françoises: Graceful Music From France,” by the aptly named ensemble Les grâces, made a persuasive case that a consciously graceful performance style immaculately suits the polite, early-Baroque gems.
In the decade since he became the youngest composer to win a Pulitzer Prize, for his String Quartet No. 2 (“musica instrumentalis”) in 1998, Aaron Jay Kernis has become one of the leading composers of his generation. Not yet 50, he’s won most of classical music’s top honors and garnered commissions from America’s leading orchestras. The New York–based composer has served for a decade as new-music advisor to the Minnesota Orchestra and directs its Composer Institute.
For a new music fan, Southern California’s Ojai Festival is about as close to nirvana as it gets. For 62 years now, this little artsy town in the hills near Santa Barbara has been bringing contemporary music to the outdoor Libbey Bowl, an acoustic shell in a sylvan park setting as idyllic as the music can be challenging. Stravinsky, Copland, Boulez, MTT (many times) … a good number of the 20th century’s most acclaimed musical creators and interpreters have directed the four-day extravaganza.