When Ryan Jimenez was a young boy living in Oxnard, he was given tickets to a symphony concert at the Performing Arts Center. Though he was already taking band at his elementary school, the experience introduced him to the richness of a professional, live music experience, awakening a hunger that would inform both his life and career paths. For a man with a résumé that includes communications director for Maria Shriver, producer for CNN’s Larry King Live, and public relations director for the Geffen Playhouse, the USC and Harvard alumnus exudes an almost childlike wonder when discussing his connection to music. After Larry King retired, Jimenez decided to return to his hometown and explore his dream of building a community-centered symphony. He met up with maestro Burns Taft (Ventura Music Festival founder, Ventura College music instructor and Ventura County Master Chorale conductor) to discuss the possibilities, and the rest, as they say, is history. The resulting Pacific Shores Philharmonic Foundation, of which he is president, will present the symphony’s inaugural season at the beautifully renovated Libbey Bowl in Ojai for a summer of accessible, eclectic music featuring a range of programming that includes traditional selections, Latin jazz, film scores and new music compositions performed largely by local musicians and conducted by Taft. Jimenez found some time to discuss the spirit of the philharmonic, advocating for classical music and keeping it local.
VCReporter: If interest in classical music has waned, why is it important to keep it alive?
Ryan Jimenez: Music, whether it’s classical, jazz, rap, hip-hop, choral or any other iteration, in and of itself is a universal language that transcends all types of divides — cultural divides, linguistic divides, geographic divides — and it kind of touches a core of the human spirit. So classical music has roots that go back to some of the earliest forms of music, and in fact people often forget it also includes contemporary and living composers, so the reality is that classic does not necessarily mean old or dated. Going [to the symphony] as a young man changed my life. Not only hearing music performed live, but also with acoustic instruments, and I was mesmerized and fell in love with it. I often wonder, with all the cutbacks in the arts across the board, how many people will miss out on that same experience — hearing something so moving and touching. It opens a whole new window in the soul. Part of what we’re trying to do is reintroduce classical music to the community in a way that’s accessible and will, hopefully, reach young people in such a way that they will not only understand it, but be a part of it, so this becomes a lasting legacy, so what we’re building now is still going on 20-30 years from now. One of the reasons [interest in classical] has waned is because the availability has dwindled. We’re making available to young people a universal language that will inspire them in some artistic way. Nothing would please me more than to see a young person from the county be inspired by what we’re doing, and become the next conductor for the New York Philharmonic. If we could inspire just one young person in that way I think we would have accomplished a lot.
Starting a philharmonic implies a certain faith in the receptivity of Ventura County audiences, doesn’t it?
Everything new is a risk and we’re not afraid to fail, so I think the biggest part of the accomplishment is making what we’re doing available to the community. We can’t predict how the community will respond, but we are hopeful that they will enjoy what we’ve put together. We took great care to design the season to be as diverse as possible and integrate as many types of music as possible. We start with classical. We go to jazz then to choral, then pops and movie music, then world music and, finally, new music. And even more specific to our local focus, the last concert features works of music by two very important composers who are local residents: Grammy-nominated Miguel del Aguila and Leslie Hogan, who’s on the faculty at UCSB. So part of the whole idea was to not only create something for the community at large, but also to create an artistic outlet for the extraordinary breadth of musicians who live in our county. There are quite a number of accomplished professional musicians [here]. So before we import musicians from other places, we start locally first. Many of the musicians who play with us might play with other local organizations. … We work on a collaborative basis with them. The musicians are the heart of the orchestra. The community benefits and the musicians are given another chance to practice their art and craft. The way arts funding has dwindled, creating opportunities for the community is one aspect [of what Pacific Shores is doing] but creating opportunity for the artists themselves is another.
You’ve expressed that paying musicians fair wages is important. Does this interfere with keeping music programs funded?
An orchestra is very expensive. When you present a full concert, and you have 85 bodies on stage, they are being compensated not only for the concerts but also the rehearsals. Many orchestras are classified as community orchestras, which means a mix of volunteers and they play for the passion of it. And these orchestras are essential. But in what we’re doing, the repertoire we want to be able to perform demands we have musicians at a certain skill level, and we knew we had to organize a professional orchestra. We negotiated an agreement with Local 47 in Los Angeles, and as you can imagine, if you’re in a company and you are hiring a manager to oversee something, you want to hire the best person for that job, and you expect they will exceed your expectations. But you also know, to get the quality you want you have to pay people what they are worth. So we had to be able to provide wages that were consistent with not only the expectations of the union and what professional musicians are used to seeing in the market, but we had to make sure we were able to compensate them based on what they were used to getting [locally]. So the musician cost is one big aspect, and the ladies and gentlemen of the orchestra are the heart and soul of the project. I think every artist wants to feel as much as possible that what they are creating is valued at the level it should be.
What is Pacific Shores doing to contemporize musical programs for broader appeal?
If we look at, for example, our jazz concert . . . we start with something very core and traditional classical — “The Four Seasons” and Mendelssohn — but then the second concert we go into Pete Escovedo and his Latin jazz. It’s a remarkable juxtaposition. We wanted to send the message from the beginning that we are mixing it up, so to speak. Because it’s Latin jazz we thought it was interesting since we do have a Latino legacy here and Pete was available to come to Ojai. It’s a type of music that has the ability to convey emotion; that’s the gift of the artists. In order to be done right, every person in the audience needs to feel that performance was done especially for them on that night through that performance.
How should audiences who are new to classical approach a performance?
With an open mind. I think the best experiences are the ones we are able to make personal. And there is no rule about what the music should feel like or mean, necessarily. I think for every concertgoer, if they get something out of the music that touches them or moves them in a way, that’s what it’s really about. Yes, going to a concert is a shared experience, but the real magic is what it means to us inside, and I think every concertgoer, to the extent they are able to be open to it, should let the music enter them and move within them, and they should make of it what is meaningful to them. When I was a young kid in fourth grade going to the symphony on a free [ticket], it was not possible for me to make sense of the profundity of hearing DeBussy’s “La Mer.” I didn’t know this was one of the great impressionist masterpieces. I knew it was about the sea, but I didn’t know more than what I read in the program. What mattered to me as that young man was that I was open to this new experience and that music moved me in such a way, it did something so that later in life when I was working for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and I was listening to them doing “La Mer,” it conjured all the memories of hearing it as a child in Oxnard. By then I had heard the history of the piece, so much of the magic I felt was the same thing all over again. It goes back to the whole thing of music being a universal language. It’s not about being an expert in classical music or having a music critic’s knowledge of a piece. It’s just about being open to the possibility of what that music might mean to the individual soul.
Please elaborate on the tagline “A concert hall without walls, music without boundaries.”
Just be open without limits and the bowl as an outdoor venue is so extraordinary and we are privileged to perform there. And just as we want our audiences to be open, it is our own mission that when it comes to programming we want to be able to program without boundaries — pieces that are relevant, interesting, accessible. We don’t want to be an orchestra that follows a certain template. We are making our own rules, and those rules are about what will fulfill and inspire concertgoers, and what is meaningful to the community. To be able to make an orchestra truly about the neighborhood in which it exists, that’s where the magic happens. ”
The Pacific Shores Philharmonic summer season opens Saturday, June 30, 8 p.m. with a performance of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” and Mendelssohn’s “Octet for Strings.” Performances throughout the season include a Saturday evening and a Sunday matinee. The season will continue through Sept. 23. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.libbeybowl.org.
Music from around the world hits the stage at Ojai’s Libbey Bowl
by Cristina Lopez
June 30, 8 p.m.
July 1, 2 p.m.
Antonio Vivaldi’s “Le Quattro Stagioni” (The Four Seasons)
Felix Mendelssohn’s “Octet, Strings, Op. 20, E-flat major”
Birds flit through the skies, singing. Flowers bloom and fruit hangs from overladen trees. The sun kisses the horizon late in the day, followed by the gentle chirping of crickets. The scene shifts, and the trees are stripped of their leaves. Snow coats the earth like powdered sugar until the world changes to a stormy gray. Winds whistle by as the sky above thunders. No piece of music better calls to mind these seasonal scenes than Antonio Vivaldi’s “Le Quattro Stagioni”(The Four Seasons), composed in 1723. It will be performed by the Pacific Shores Philharmonic Orchestra Strings along with Felix Mendelssohn’s “Octet, Strings, Op. 20, E-flat major,” composed in 1825. Violin soloist Yue Deng, the concert’s star musician, will help to show why these classical pieces from 18th- and 19th-century Europe transcend time and space. Deng is an accomplished musician who surely won’t disappoint her audience.
PS Phil Presents Latin Jazz at Libbey Bowl
July 14, 8 p.m.
July 15, 2 p.m.
Pete Escovedo and his Latin Jazz Orchestra
It’s a nostalgic summer day in the park. Families gather around the central gazebo where a band plays jazzy tunes. Children run in the grass while parents set out picnic lunches. Couples dance, the men twirling their partners to the beat. But now imagine that traditional smooth jazz music with a twist — an infusion of Latin salsa. This is just the type of hybrid jazz style that Grammy-nominated musician Pete Escovedo has perfected over the years with his Latin Jazz Orchestra. In 1960, after about a decade of percussion music training and performances, Escovedo and his two brothers formed the Escovedo Brothers Latin Jazz Band. He then went on to form the band Azteca, touring the nation with Stevie Wonder and The Temptations. Since then his career has skyrocketed. Escovedo performs with such musicians as Carlos Santana, Barry White and Prince; he also has a successful solo career and holds many musical awards and nominations.
Sonic Boom: Carmina Burana with the Pacific Shores Chorale
July 28, 8 p.m.
July 29, 2 p.m.
Shana Blake Hill, soprano
Robert MacNeil, tenor
Zachary Gordin, baritone
Everyone experiences life as a rollercoaster of ups and downs. Great friends stab each other in the back. Fights break out at parties. Marriages dissolve. But life can also take a 180-degree turn in the other direction, bringing love and affection back to the forefront. German Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana (Songs of Bueren), composed in 1935, illustrates this universal fact with a depiction of the goddess Fortuna spinning her wheel. She dictates the direction each person must take, bringing human beings to the highest of heights, only to dash them back down to the deepest despair. The piece is performed by a large chorus, small chorus, children’s chorus and three vocal soloists — Shana Blake Hill, soprano; Robert MacNeil, tenor; and Zachary Gordin, baritone — accompanied by two pianos and five percussion instruments. Carmina Burana is very popular and has been featured in numerous television shows, including Glee.
Pops under the Stars: Music for Cowboys and Cowgirls
Aug. 11, 8 p.m.
Aug. 12, 2 p.m.
John Williams’ Star Wars main theme
John Barry’s Dances with Wolves
Alexandre Desplat and John Williams’ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows concert, Suite No. 2
Aaron Copland’s Hoe-Down from the ballet Rodeo
Ferde Grofé’s “Grand Canyon Suite”
Heroes battle villains with the entire universe as a backdrop. White Americans have encounters with native Indians. Witches and wizards fight against a dark lord. Young men and women court one another on the dance floor with a western hoedown. The sun rises on the majestic Grand Canyon. The American Dream, including its optimism and hard-working opportunism, is depicted in these ways and more in movies, live performances and musical compositions, including Pacific Shores. The concert performance will begin with songs from three movie scores: the Star Wars main theme composed by John Williams, the Dances with Wolves concert suite composed by John Barry, and the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows concert, Suite No. 2, composed by Alexandre Desplat and John Williams. The concert will finish by hearkening to the old American frontier and the natural beauty of the West: Aaron Copland’s “Hoe-Down,” from the ballet Rodeo, and Ferdé Grofé’s “Grand Canyon Suite.”
World Music: The Flame of Tango
Aug. 25, 8 p.m.
Aug. 26, 2 p.m.
Celino Romero, guitarist
It’s a cool and quiet night in Argentina, but the night clubs are hot and lively. Bar singers sit at their piano stools, while violinists and drummers set up their instruments. The singer counts, “A-five, a-six, a-five, six, seven, eight,” and the musicians strike out into a tango. Dancers eye each other from across the room. One man whirls his partner around as her blood-red skirt flashes and swishes through the air. The tango’s popularity as a social dance has spread to numerous other countries. The smoky languor and fiery passion of tango music make it recognizable and infectious to all who hear it. Guitar player Celino Romero will bring a taste of the tango, with its many different faces, as the concert’s featured guest.
New Music: Sonic Sojourns
Sept. 22, 8 p.m.
Sept. 23, 2 p.m.
Karen Benjamin, soprano
Virginia Kron, cello
Poems are read aloud in a coffee shop, some expressing harsh political critiques or risqué memories, others reflecting on the subtle beauty of nature. Travelers circle the globe. Some head to exotic rainforests, others to nondescript cities. Human beings interact wherever they go. All aspects of life bring inspiration to musicians. Various composers drew on such inspiration in the 20th century, bringing us new and different music, which will be featured in the last concert of the series. The performance will start off with Maurice Ravel’s Chansons Madécasses, arranged around controversial fugitive poetry from Madagascar; followed by Miguel del Aguila’s “Pacific Serenade,” with the clarinet as the “singer”; and Leslie Hogan’s “Questions of Travel,” based on the nature poetry of Elizabeth Bishop. It will also include Joan Tower’s “Amazon,” inspired by the well-known river. The concert will finish with Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “Assobio a Jato” (The Jet Whistle), written with the flute and cello talking as friends, and Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville – Summer of 1915,” reflecting on his childhood days in the Tennessee city.