The other resident group in the festival is the Ensemble Galilei, an all-female band that leans in the direction of original, Celtic-inflected folk music. Taft said of their lighter fare, "They represent another extension in the life of chamber music."
As the festival has spread its wings, so have ambitions and organizational structure, through an active board of directors. The city of Ventura has stepped in--particularly such people as Sonia Tower and Elena Brokaw in the Office of Cultural Affairs--and support also has come from a growing roster of corporate sponsors.
"It's becoming more and more obvious to people in the business world and community civic leaders that an event of this nature brings with it an element of prestige," said Taft. "I don't want to sound commercially crass, but if I were a corporation and wanted to get some exposure, I would love to have my name associated with something like this. It's a very good thing for everybody all the way around."
He laughed, "I'm talking more like an administrator than a music director now."
Taft's own role as a festival conductor takes shape May 2, when his Master Chorale performs "Carmina Burana," and again May 9 at the Ventura Theater, when the Ventura Chamber Music Festival Orchestra performs a program including Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 (with Santiago Rodriguez as soloist), and Benjamin Britten. Opening that program will be "Ash," by the dynamic young composer Michael Torke.
Torke's music, which follows its own post-minimalist language, was the most memorable part of last year's orchestral concert. He could be called a mascot composer of the festival.
"It has a very limited harmonic vocabulary," Taft said of this year's Torke piece, "but it has a motivic development that, I swear, makes it seem like he's a third cousin of Beethoven. He's endlessly inventive. Every page comes up and you think, 'I've heard that before,' but then I haven't heard that before. That's the high point of the festival for me--getting to learn a new score by Torke."
In looking at the festival's future, Taft sees grand things on the horizon, and he entertains ideas like bringing a composer such as Torke in for a residency or promoting the building of a mid-size festival hall, which would alleviate a current problem: a lack of suitably scaled venues.
Taft said he and the board want the festival to "have significance beyond a local event." They would like it to attract visitors from throughout the world, and they have set high goals to raise the resources to enable that to happen.
"We also want to have in it a strong educational component. I think of the Aspen Festival as largely a teaching festival, a fabulous retreat for students, artists and teachers to intermingle."
Intermingling, of people and music, is the whole idea of a good festival. And this one is getting its act together.
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Opening Gala, "An Evening in Shangri-La," 6 p.m. April 30 at Spa Ojai, Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, 705 Country Club Road. Performance by Bali & Beyond and a dance band. Tickets are $100.
"Tea and Trumpets," with Ventura Chamber Orchestra Festival Trombones, at 3 p.m. May 1, Nona's Courtyard Cafe, Bella Maggiore Inn, 67 S. California St., Ventura. Tickets are $36.
"Musical Mosaic," with Cuarteto Latinoamericano, at 8 p.m. May 1, San Buenaventura Mission, 211 E. Main St., Ventura. Tickets are $32. "Violin Virtuoso," with violinist Corey Cerovsek and pianist Katja Cerovsek, at 4 p.m. May 2, Community Presbyterian Church, 1555 Poli St., Ventura. Tickets are $19 and $24.
"Carmina Burana," Ventura Master Chorale, Ventura Chamber Orchestra Percussion and the Ventura Master Chorale Children's Concert Choir, at 8 p.m. May 2, Our Lady of the Assumption Church, 3175 Telegraph Road, Ventura. Tickets are $19.
"The Four Seasons," Ventura Chamber Orchestra Festival Strings and violin soloist Corey Cerovsek, at 3 p.m. May 3, Community Presbyterian Church, 1555 Poli St., Ventura. Tickets are $19 and $24. "Golden Flute," with flutist Carol Lockhart and pianist Lisa Sylvester, at 3:30 p.m. May 6, First United Methodist Church, 1338 E. Santa Clara St., Ventura. Tickets are $9 and $19.
"Celtic Dance Celebration," with Ensemble Galilei and the Pure Joy Moving Company, at 7 p.m. May 6, Masonic Temple, 482 E. Santa Clara St., Ventura. Tickets are $9 and $19.
"Tea and Trumpets," with Ventura Chamber Orchestra Festival Trombones, at 3 p.m. May 7, Nona's Courtyard Cafe, Bella Maggiore Inn, 67 S. California St., Ventura. Tickets are $36.
"Portrait of a Romantic," with pianist Santiago Rodriguez, at 7:30 p.m. May 7, Church of Religious Science, 101 S. Laurel St., Ventura. Tickets are $25.
"Coffeehouse Blends," with guitarist Matthew Greif and bassist Randy Tico, at 1 p.m. May 8 and 9, Daily Grind Coffee House, 607 E. Main St., Ventura. Free.