Harmony, hospitality in Ojai Valley

Great moments in music emanate from the 61st Ojai Music Festival, a venue 75 miles northwest of Los Angeles and 35 miles southwest of Santa Barbara. At the crossroads of this insular valley, home to more artists per square foot imaginable, but off-putting to anything resonating fast food or corporate box stores, creativity flourishes.

Insiders refer to this paradise as a Wal-Mart-free zone. I think of it as the home of music in its purest form: free form, experimental and predictably unpredictable. I like the fact that if I want the most organic juicy orange in the realm, I can hike out to the Friends Ranch on Highway 33. And if I am in the mood for a funky trolley, I can hop on the Ojai Trolley Service for 50 cents (seniors pay half that) and ride as far as Meiners Oaks to revel in the Ojai Valley pristine mountain air. It is a turn-back-the-pages-of-time place, and the most unlikely place for one of the most progressive music festivals in America.

This year, a stunning program, under the direction of Pierre-Laurent Aimard, unfolds in the rustic setting of the historic, but unpretentious Libbey Bowl between June 7-10. Since its 1947 inception, the concept of cutting-edge music, inspired by the classics, has won the hearts and minds of loyal fans.

When Igor Stravinsky performed his own work at the first outdoor concert at the Libbey Bowl in 1952, the tradition took root and flourished. Aaron Copeland debuted there five years later. Now music lovers gather every June to savor the sounds of music in a romantically rustic ambiance.

Fanned out across the undulating lawn of Libbey Park, seating ranges from time-worn wooden benches to those accompanied by their own blankets and lawn chairs.

Music in this homespun comfortable style takes on an experimental edge. Fasten your seatbelts because this is the ultimate musical mystery tour.


Thanks to expert planning, which has navigated the festival through the last 60 years, prepare to hear it all, from the premiere of a Chinese Opera to Mozart’s Piano Concerto K. 246.

Past musical directors read like a who’s who list, from Sir Simon Rattle, Pierre Boulez and Kent Nagano to Michael Tilson Thomas. Pianist Thomas debuted here in 1965, when he was 19 years old. Stravinsky and Copeland took center stage when they performed here together 1954 through1958.

You can walk to Libbey Park, home of the vintage Libbey Bowl, on the eve of June 7 and listen to the music of Stravinsky, Ligeti, Sciarrino and Peter Eotvos under the stars. If you happen to attend one of the subsequent concerts at sunset you will be mesmerized by Ojai’s legendary “Pink Moment,” those stunning minutes when the pink glow lighting Ojai’s mountains reflects the setting sun. This is just another reason why the nickname for this enchanting Valley is Shangri-la.

Staying in Ojai enhances the overall drama of the music festival, whether you prefer the serenity of the spacious 305-room Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, the intimacy of the Su Nido Inn, which has eight one- and two-room suites in a village setting, or the health holiday ambiance of the 46-room Oaks at Ojai, owned by world class fitness celebrity, Sheila Cluff. Restaurants are intimate from adventurous dining at Suzanne’s (Gourmet magazine calls their inspired menu “food of love”) and the ever popular Ranch House, surrounded by streams and the rustling of leaves. The Rainbow Bridge, a haven for natural foods on E. Matilija Street is much larger that it seems from its entrance on a quiet street behind Ojai’s historic Arcade. This is a garden of earthly delights for those who revel in natural groceries and appreciate organic produce. The friendly staff can curate a terrific picnic basket to take to one of the afternoon concerts. If you have time on June 9, a Saturday, between the 11 a.m. Pierre-Laurent Aimard piano concert and the 8 p.m. performance by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, discover the joys of Ojai Olive Oil with a scheduled tour of its 2,500 tree farm. Saturday-only tours are scheduled between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Old Creek Ranch Winery’s Tasting Room is another optional activity for that time slot between performances. Of course, if you are in a meditative mood, Meditation Mount at the end of Reeves Road with awesome views of the Ojai Valley is a spiritual must.

Back to the festival, it is apropos that Nexus, a percussion quintet, performs on the closing day, showcasing the minimal music of Steve Reich. Combining the novelty of ragtime and the spirit of African drumming music with the natural sounds in “The Birds” and you are confronted with the essence of the Ojai Music Festival; experimental sounds that never fail to generate ample comment, praise and criticism prompting avid music lovers to plan their pilgrimage for the following year.


Ojai Music Festival: 805.646.2094;


Ojai Valley Inn & Spa: www.ojairesort.com

Su Nido Inn: www.SuNidoInn.com

Oaks at Ojai: www.oaksspa.com

Ojai Olive Oil: www.ojaioliveoil.com

Meditation Mount: www.meditation.com

Pamela Price is the co-author of “Fun with the Family in Southern CA.” (www.globepequot.com)

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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