It’s time again for the illustrious, adventurous, surprising and always engaging Ojai Music Festival (OMF). This year’s fest, in its 72nd year and taking place June 7-10, is being led by violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja. The Moldavian-Austrian violinist is known to speak her mind, and listeners will get a glimpse into the OMF music director’s imagination soon enough. Reviews of Kopatchinskaja’s violin performances include the following descriptions: wolf, gypsy princess, dancing tigress, magnificent violin witch.

Longtime OMF Artistic Director Thomas W. Morris simply calls her “a force of nature.”

Morris (who will be taking his final bow in 2019) is always on the lookout for new and challenging music. He discovered Kopatchinskaja through a mutual musical friend four years ago. He did some research, checked out her recordings and said, “Everything I heard was incredible.” Then he went to hear her play live in St. Paul, Minnesota.

“I was completely blown away — everything I had read and heard was exceeded. She’s incredible. We had lunch the next day and I found her even more compelling. I invited her and bang!”

Kopatchinskaja follows on the heels of recent well-known music directors Peter Sellars, jazz pianist Vijay Iyer and choreographer Mark Morris. She’s also one of only a handful of women who have led the OMF. These include Dawn Upshaw (2011), Mitsuko Uchida (1998, returning in 2021) and singer/conductor Barbara Hannigan (taking the helm in 2019).

The OMF is not for the faint of heart. Every year, it takes attendees on a musical expedition. You never know what’s lurking around the next curve in the road — a ravishing landscape or a harrowing experience of survival!

“What we try and do each year is build a festival that is consistent with what the festival stands for musically, one that reflects the personality of the music director, which assures each year is completely different,” notes Morris. “Patricia is such a creative force. She often says that she is an accidental violinist. She sees herself as a creator. One of the things that struck me about her is her incredibly broad range of musical passions. She’s not a traditional violinist; she’s almost a musical omnivore.”

The violinist says she first discovered contemporary music when she emigrated from the Soviet Union to Europe at the age of 14.

OMF 2018 Music Director Patricia Kopatchinskaja. Photo by Marco Borggreve

“For me then — and now — [contemporary music] literally means freedom,” she states.

She has been on a mission to present contemporary music to audiences, that, she says, is often met with “a lot of resistance.”

“The privilege in Ojai is that there is no resistance,” she admits, “only interest and support.” So she has created a program to her liking, one that should be full of surprises.

The festival officially kicks off next Thursday with a free community event. “Sonic Embrace” — Kopatchinskaja on violin and Jorge Sanchez-Chiong on electronics — is described as a “dynamic duet between solo violin and spatial amplified sound” that will transform Libbey Park into an “all-encompassing and immersive aural environment.”

The evening also includes a piece by Italian avant-garde composer Luigi Nono, “La Lontananza Nostalgica Utopica Futura” (more or less, “The Nostalgic Utopian Future Distance”).

This will be followed by the American premiere of Bye Bye Beethoven, a staged concert conceptualized by Kopatchinskaja and performed with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra at Libbey Bowl. The orchestra, in its first U.S. performance at the OMF, is an international touring group made up of dozens of individuals from 20 different countries. The concert will be a musical mash-up, with music by Charles Ives, Joseph Haydn, John Cage, Johann Sebastian Bach, György Kurtág and Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D.

“If you are on a mission to present contemporary music, you get a choked feeling if conductors and presenters demand that you always play the same old pieces always in the same way as recorded by the greats of the past on discs,” says Kopatchinskaja.

Bye Bye Beethoven takes this “oppressed feeling” onstage and “turns it on its head,” the music director promises. 

Friday night’s musical smorgasbord includes the world premiere of Michael Hersch’s “I hope we get a chance to visit soon.”

“The first hour brings classics from William Byrd, Bartok, Shostakovich, Crumb, Ligeti . . . all entertaining and fun. The second hour will be challenging,” warns Kopatchinskaja. 

A free late-night concert features “Everything That Rises,” a one-movement piece that John Luther Adams recently wrote for JACK Quartet.

There’s much, much more to explore over the long weekend.

Saturday afternoon’s two-part program offers “whimsical and exhilarating” works by Ligeti and Berio and a soaring sonata by Ravel. Throughout the festival, music lovers may enjoy pop-up concerts, an early-morning presentation to be performed in darkness, a children’s concert, folk music, sonatas, duets and more, offered by some of the finest musicians, composers and groups in contemporary music. Not to be missed is Dies Irae, a haunting and unsettling piece by Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya inspired by a world out of balance, making its West Coast premiere on Saturday night. Sunday concludes with a finale featuring works by Bartok, Stravinsky, Machaut and Ligeti.

The music director gleefully anticipates her time here.

“I am conscious that California is one of the most spiritually and intellectually sparkling regions in the world. I look forward to meeting a challenging audience,” she concludes.

The Ojai Music Festival is always a musical adventure that promises to stretch listeners’ imaginations and minds — and sometimes even blow them!

The Ojai Music Festival takes place June 7-10 at several venues throughout Ojai. For tickets, a full schedule and more information, call 646-2053 or visit www.ojaifestival.org .