The Ojai Valley, long known for it’s modern classical music leanings with the world-renowned annual Ojai Music Festival, will soon be filled with the sounds of more traditional classical sounds throughout the coming year. Happy Valley, in Upper Ojai, is about to become more ebullient, if such a thing is possible, as the new 2016-17 concert season for Chamber on the Mountain kicks off this month. Not only are listeners treated to fine chamber concerts performed by world-class musicians, they also have a chance to mingle post-concert with the performers and like-minded fans at intimate “Meet the Artists” receptions at Logan House, located adjacent to the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts.
Heidi Lehwalder, a noted harpist with an illustrious career, is Chamber on the Mountain’s founder, and also serves as artistic director. Although she lives in Seattle, she has close ties to the Ojai community.
“Seattle is home,” she said, “I debuted at 9 years old with the Seattle Symphony and performed 55 times with them!” The daughter of a cellist, who has had a long performing and teaching career, Lehwalder cut her teeth on music programming as the artistic director and founder of the Fredericksburg Festival for the Performing Arts for 20 years in Virginia. More recently, she taught at the University of Washington, but felt there was “something else” she wanted to do. So three years ago she launched the Chamber on the Mountain series using her vast knowledge and New York connections to bring first-class musicians to Ventura County.
Lehwalder’s link to Ojai is a charming one. Her uncle, Austin Bee, was a longtime chairman of Ojai’s Happy Valley Foundation. (His widow, Phoebe, 97, resides on Orcas Island in Washington’s San Juan Islands.) Through family members, she met Radha and Jimmy Sloss, the couple who helped her give birth to her idea. Radha’s mother helped create Happy Valley School, which is part of the foundation. In fact, Happy Valley School students are invited to attend the chamber concerts, and the musicians often offer a post-performance concert at the school.
Visiting pianists — such as the dynamic piano duo Anderson and Roe — get to play the Hamburg Steinway that was a gift to the Happy Valley Foundation from the daughter of Hungarian pianist Lili Kraus and beautifully restored by Oak View-based piano technician Dennis Ashly.
The setting always amazes the globetrotting guest artists staying at the compound, who arrive on a Friday, rehearse on Saturday and perform on Sunday.
“It’s most unusual to see the look on the musicians’ faces when they show up. They are used to big concert halls!” Lehwalder laughed, noting that she will be performing the final concert in 2017.
The opening concert on Sunday, Sept. 25, is the first in a series of six Sunday afternoon performances that take place during the course of the next year. It kicks off with noted Israeli violinist Itamar Zorman, hailed as “one of the most exciting violinists performing today.” Zorman will be accompanied by Kwan Yi on the piano.
Compositions to be performed include Mozart’s Divertimento K. 287 (“Adagio,” arr. Rubinstein); Schubert’s Rondo Brillant in B minor, D. 895; 20th-century Israeli composer Paul Ben-Haim’s (1897-1984) Yizkor (“Evocation”) for violin and piano; Ravel’s Sonata for violin and piano; and Polish violinist and composer Henryk Wieniawski’s Variations on an Original Theme, op. 15. A “meet the artists” reception will immediately follow the performance.
Chamber on the Mountain is presented by the Happy Valley Cultural Center. The first concert will be Sunday, Sept. 25, at 3 p.m. at Logan House, adjacent to the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts, 8585 Ojai-Santa Paula Road, Ojai. For schedule, tickets and more information call 646-9951 or visit www.chamberonthemountain.com.