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JACK SMITH

Weekend in Ojai Strikes a Chord

June 19, 1995|JACK SMITH

We drove up to Ojai last weekend for the 49th annual Ojai Music Festival in Libbey Bowl.

I should say we drove up with Steve and Nona Baer, Steve at the wheel of his Mercedes.

We stayed two nights at the Pierpont Inn, a hotel by the sea in nearby Ventura. We were with a group of the Committee of Professional Women for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The weekend was idyllic.

As much as I dislike being chairbound, I took my wheelchair, the manly Steve doing most of the pushing. I prefer walking on my wife's arm, but she complains that I push her off the sidewalk. Once I did nearly push her into the swimming pool.

The Libbey Bowl is a modest little bowl among the oaks and sycamores. Woodpeckers and mockingbirds fluttered and pecked among the leaves. An almost full moon shone down through the trees. One is reminded that the Ojai Valley was the setting for Shangri La in "Lost Horizon," that classic movie about hope and illusion. It is one of my favorites, with Ronald Colman and the forever young Jane Wyatt.

The little town of Ojai itself seems fashioned of hope and illusion. Its small houses appear to be of some other time and place. Its stores beckon the tourist with Native American jewelry and local art.

I saw two men bicyling through town wearing white shirts with "SHERIFF" lettered on the back. When the cops are quaint, you suspect that the town doesn't have much crime.

I waited on the sidewalk in my wheelchair while my wife and Nona reconnoitered in a store that sold what I would call junk jewelry, which my wife loves. She was tempted by a necklace that cost $350, but did not buy.

The festival began Friday evening with Kent Nagano conducting the Lyon Opera Orchestra in Ravel's "Mother Goose Suite," Milhaud's "Bull on the Roof" and Weill's "The Seven Deadly Sins." While the French music chirped in the trees like the birds, I tried to remember what the seven deadly sins were, but couldn't think of one. In this setting sin seemed irrelevant.

I was wondering how I could possibly do justice to this weekend in a column. I like music, but I have no skill in writing about it. Suddenly my wife said, "Isn't that Martin down there?" She pointed to a handsome gray head about four rows in front of us. Indeed it was Martin Bernheimer, music critic of The Times. I was saved.

Bernheimer has a gift for the elegant phrase. Indeed, I was delighted to read in Monday's paper his glittering piece on the concert. He wrote, among other things, that the "climactic attraction . . . involved Weill's 'Die sieben Todsunden,' a.k.a. 'The Seven Deadly Sins,' a stellar period piece showcasing the soprano Angelina Reaux. The funky-cynical score . . . stretches the jazz idiom beyond surface amusement, and it may have been performed here with finesse beyond the call. Still, it exerted a nice aura of exotic decadence."

He also wrote: "The festive scene was set Friday with an evening of Ravel, Milhaud and Weill. Nagano and his generally youthful charges looked incongruously formal in white tie and black tails (and the feminine equivalent). They made music elegantly, too, even when the expressive tone was fashionably decadent."

We also attended a Saturday afternoon concert and a Sunday morning concert. As he has before when we were out of town together, Steve tried to get me to go to early Mass with him on Sunday. I declined, pointing out that for me to go to Mass would be as much a breach of faith as for him not to.

After the concert Saturday night, we dropped in at the Pierpont Inn piano bar. The resident pianist was playing some Gershwin medley featuring "Rhapsody in Blue." He was really pounding the keys. After the delicate finesse of the concerts, the noise sounded very American.

Saturday evening we ate on the dock at the Tuck restaurant in Ventura Harbor, looking down on the masts of huddled pleasure boats. I had a vodka tonic and two glasses of Chardonnay, trying to keep the spirit of the Gallic weekend.

I wondered if self-indulgence was one of the seven deadly sins. Oh well, so be it. The whole weekend had exerted a nice aura of exotic decadence.

* Jack Smith's column is published Mondays.

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