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Maria Schneider at Ojai Music Festival

Composer and big band leader presents new work at southern California music festival

Maria Schneider and her orchestra at the 65th Ojai Music Festival on June 12, 2011 in the new Libbey Bowl in Ojai, CA

In many respects, composer/arranger/big-band conductor Maria Schneider’s meld of jazz, classical, world genres and earth consciousness was perfect for the 65th Ojai Music Festival. Set in the town’s moderate-sized Libbey Bowl outdoor stage, the classical-based festival, roughly 75 miles north of Los Angeles, always quests for artists who push the limits. In 2010, the 31-member Ensemble Modern performed Frank Zappa works, including music from The Yellow Shark and songs like “The Adventures of Greggery Peccary” and “Peaches in Regalia.” Additionally, the program included several compositions by Edgard Varèse, Zappa’s main classical influence.

Needless to say, Schneider’s music and morning performance (11 a.m.) was nowhere close to being as avant-garde. She did, however, have the audience wondering what they were in for when speaking about Minnesota farmlands (she grew up in the state and attended its university) during the introduction for the ArtistShare-commissioned “Thompson Fields.” The piece was pastoral and Aaron Copeland-slanted Americana with piano, guitar and accordion strongly accenting Schneider’s incredibly fluid 18-person ensemble. The band notably includes Steve Wilson and Donny McCaslin on reeds, pianist Frank Kimbrough and drummer Clarence Penn.

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