If ever there were a place and time for rebirth, it’s Ojai and it’s now.
With the city in danger, encircled by the largest fire in California’s recorded history, the watchword of the day was survival. Every moment became colored with the acrid specters of smoke and uncertainty. The exodus from
the poison in the air, and all the anxiety and fear that accompanied that flight, held Ojai in its clutches for long, interminable days. In all the chaos and confusion and fight for survival, it’s easy for a cataclysm to overshadow the little things you love about a place like Ojai.
You think about what you have to take more than what you’re going to leave behind.
The Ojai Art Center is one of those jewels that’s a bit too heavy to just pick up and pack in the back of a pickup. It kicks off its 2018 season of fine offerings in art and culture with a concert featuring violinist Yue Deng, cellist Virginia Kron and pianist Miori Sugiyama. It’s a program of achingly beautiful classical music that features, among other works, Clara Schumann’s “Three Romances for Violin and Piano,” Op. 22, Maurice Ravel’s “Sonata for Violin and Cello” and a new trio arrangement of “Deep River” by local composer Jimmy Calire.
Like new flowers slowly breaking through the burnt-out surface of the earth, this is music that is necessarily vital and crucial to bring back some semblance of beauty to a place where once was terror and destruction. It’s art that reminds us of the finer, more civilized aspects of the human experience that are, in their way, just as epic in life as losing everything. It is art that represents the endless ability of people that, much like the phoenix, are somehow reborn from the fire and ashes. The pieces to be performed are like that persistence of the human spirit to overcome adversity — and they are all the more important for their being performed and interpreted in this time, in this place.
The Clara Schumann piece, for instance, represents a music that, much like the survival of the city, was made possible against heavy odds. Schumann’s career as a composer was, in her day, secondary to her composer husband Robert’s celebrated chamber and orchestral works. Düsseldorf of the 19th century was not exactly welcoming and encouraging to female composers, something that Schumann herself remarked upon. And yet the beauty of these “Romances” abides, surviving even when the work of other more famous male contemporaries has settled beneath a fine dust of absolute oblivion.
Maurice Ravel’s “Sonata for Violin and Cello (1920-22)” emerged after a long period of contemplation. Dedicated to the memory of his contemporary, the composer Claude Debussy, it’s a pastoral, gentle work, the nimbleness of which is like a living thing unto itself. While it lives, however, it behaves in its musical way as a deer venturing out from a fire-blasted forest to try to comprehend the smoldering wasteland, or as a hawk flying slowly over that same landscape, looking for sustenance.
Through this beautiful, pristine, transcendent music — performed by musicians of extraordinary talent — we can better comprehend the cataclysm that almost took it all away, and recognize how music acts as a lens through which we see the world behind us, even as the music take us through the world that yet lies ahead.
Yue Deng, Virginia Kron and Miori Sugiyama perform on Sunday, Jan. 7, at 2 p.m. at the Ojai Art Center, 113 S. Montgomery St., Ojai. Tickets are sold only at the door. For more information, call 640-8327.