The music of Frank Zappa comes to Ojai

A scuplture of late legendary guitarist Frank Zappa is seen in Vilnius on June 4, 2009.
A scuplture of late legendary guitarist Frank Zappa is seen in Vilnius on June 4, 2009. Petras Malukas/AFP/Getty Images

Famous to some for his rock band The Mothers of Invention, and to others for his sharp tongue and avant-garde classical music, Frank Zappa enjoyed a legendary career that spanned more than 30 years and astonished the world by breaching the barriers of musical genres.

Zappa is no longer with us, but his music is coming to this year's Ojai Music Festival. Jeff Haydon, the executive director of the Ojai Music Festival spoke with KPCC's Alex Cohen.

On Friday afternoon, June 11, the Festival Symposium will address “The World of Frank Zappa.” His widow, Gail Zappa, will be among the panelists connected with Zappa who will discuss his genre-bending career.

Also present will be members of the Ensemble Modern, recounting the group’s tours and their recordings with Zappa in the 1990s. The Symposium will be held at Matilija Auditorium at the Matilija Junior High School.

Whatever the field – philosophy, politics, social criticism, rock, classical music, or film – Frank Zappa was a gifted maverick.

Born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1940, he wrote rock, jazz, electronic, orchestral, and musique concrèteworks. During his career he appeared as a solo artist, directed feature-length films and music videos, and designed album covers.

Bestowed with a keen interest in music from an early age, he became conversant in everything from doo-wop to the “serious” music of classical composers Bartok and Stravinsky, and avant-garde pioneers Varèse and Schoenberg.


Evening concert at Ojai Festival's Libbey Bowl
Photo by Axel Koester, Courtesy of Ojai Music Festival

The Friday night concert, which starts at 8:00 p.m. at the Libbey Bowl, will juxtapose two works by Varèse ("Density" and "Octandre") with selections from two albums by Zappa ("Greggery Peccary & Other Persuasions" and "The Yellow Shark"). ‘The Yellow Shark’ was recorded by Frank Zappa and the Ensemble Modern in 1992 and was the last Zappa album released before his death in 1993.

This year’s festival will mark the first appearance in Ojai of the Frankfurt-based group Ensemble Modern, described by The New Yorker as “the best contemporary new music ensemble.” Included will be soloists: Hermann Kretzschmar, a pianist since 1985; Megumi Kasakawa, viola; Patrick Judt, who has worked with the ensemble since 2006; pianist Ueli Wiget, a member since 1986; and Dietmar Wiesner, flute and a founding member of the Ensemble Modern.

A special “Zappa Package” is offered to those who want to immerse themselves in the life and work of this extraordinary musician.

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