Behind the Scenes of the Ojai Music Festival with Vijay Iyer

Photo by Barbara Rigon | Homepage photo by Lena Adasheva

Vijay Iyer is an American jazz pianist, composer, bandleader, producer, electronic musician, and writer. He’s a winner of the MacArthur Fellowship, the so-called “Genius Award.” And he’s this year’s music director for the Ojai Music Festival, which runs from June 8th to 11th in majestic Ojai. KUSC’s Brian Lauritzen sat down with Iyer to talk about his musical philosophy and what he has planned for the OMF.

BL: What was running through your mind when OMF Artistic Director Thomas Morris asked you to be the music director?
VI: Well, I’d heard about the festival from Steven Schick. We’d been working together on some of the material we’ll be doing at Ojai. I don’t know for sure, but I think Steven might be who put the idea in Tom Morris’ head that maybe he should check me out. Tom showed up in January 2014 and basically popped the question. I thought he was crazy, but I also thought this was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. It’s really a special challenge to try to rise too – the scale of it, and what my role could possibly be stepping into that stream of history. It’s such a significant festival. So I didn’t take it lightly, but I also wanted to seize the opportunity.

BL: When you had before you a blank sheet of paper and four days of programming to fill, where did you start?
VI: Much is made about the assumed distinctions between composition and improvisation, but really what we’re talking about is a distinction between ideas and action. An improviser implements ideas in real time that are, hopefully, created in the moment and in relation to other streams of music that may be happened. A composer is usually seen as someone who sculpts every musical moment long before it happens. I have great love for the great composers and have studied a lot of western classical music and contemporary music, but I’ve also been involved in a lot of music that can’t be described in those terms and I wanted to make sure that they were presented alongside each other.

Learn more about the Ojai Music Festival at ojaifestival.org.

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