Ventura Music Festival, 25th Anniversary
When: through June 21
Where: Various venues in Ventura
Tickets: $25 to $50, with student discounts
Information: 805-648-3146 www.venturamusicfestival.org.
Although Santa Barbara herself boasts surprisingly little energy in terms of music festivals, travel-worthy festival action within easy driving distance of our city have survived and thrived over the years. The internationally (and New York City)-acclaimed Ojai Music Festival is the prime example, and up until this year, the Live Oak Music Festival brightened the June landscape on its site (moving to San Luis Obispo this past June for its 31st anniversary).
And then, not to be forgotten, there is the Ventura Music Festival, which has bravely held true to its course, bringing classical music sprinkled with jazz and other temptations to the 805. That festival’s grand 25th anniversary edition is now underway, through June 21,
Classical music was always the centerpiece of the festival’s agenda, as first laid out by original director Burns Taft and, since 2004, by violinist Nuvi Mehta (son of Zubin Mehta). But the festival roster has also stretched to include jazz artists, and music without easy categorization–including Pink Martini and Herbie Hancock.
For this year’s edition, the jazz component actually wins out in the name recognition department with tonight’s special meeting of two vocal jazz legends, Take Six and the Manhattan Transfer at the Oxnard PACC, and next Friday’s (July 19) arrival of next widely-touted boy wonder jazz pianist Joey Alexander at Ventura College. Mr. Alexander has played at UCSB’s Campbell Hall a few times now, as the teen has been growing up in public.
But in a sense, the heart of this year’s line-up is the return performance of the great American classical guitarist Christopher Parkening, performing with baritone Jubilant Sykes, Saturday night at Ventura College. The pair released the impressive album “Jubilation” in 2007, to much acclaim, blending together elements of classical repertoire, Spanish music (always a mainstay for classical guitarists), spirituals and music by American icons Aaron Copland and Charles Ives.
Mr. Parkening, now 71 and semi-retired from the concert stage, became a global sensation while in his 20s, especially respected for his performance of Bach and Spanish repertoire. He boasts a local connection once-removed, in that longtime Santa Barbara-based composer Elmer Bernstein’s Guitar Concerto—a moving and important addition to the slim library of guitar concerto literature—was written for the guitarist, in 2000. The Concerto, in fact, was performed in 2016 by the Santa Barbara Symphony with guitarist Pablo Sáinz-Villegas.
Although he briefly tried to live in one of his favorite spots, Montana (he has been an avid, lifelong fly fisherman), he returned to Los Angeles, where he was born. He also founded the now-prestigious guitar department at USC, and presently is a professor at Pepperdine College, which subsequently has become known as a haven for classical guitar culture and pedagogy.
In an interview, the guitarist confessed “I actually started fly-fishing before I started the guitar. My dad taught me how to fish when I was six, and I started the guitar at the age of 11. My inspiration was a cousin of mine, who, at that time, was a staff guitarist at MGM Studios. His name was Jack Marshall. He would come over to our home and play guitar. I loved the sound of the instrument.
“When I asked him about studying the guitar, he gave me some advice. He said `Chris, do two things. One, start with classical guitar, so you can get a good foundation of guitar technique. Second, get the records of Andres Segovia, the best guitarist in the world.’ I heeded his advice. I loved Segovia’s playing and studied classical guitar.”
Not incidentally, Mr. Parkening also became a prized protégé of the great Spanish classical guitarist Segovia, who insisted that his student focus on classical music and avoid the temptations of other popular styles adopted by many guitarists. “Segovia mandated me to do that,” says Mr. Parkening. “He, of course, single-handedly brought the guitar into a position of being a major concert classical instrument. He was my big inspiration growing up. He had to, as he put it ‘redeem’ the guitar. The guitar was not considered a classical instrument, and yet I feel that the guitar is a powerful crossover instrument.
“When you consider all the styles in which the guitar is played, it’s probably the most popular instrument in the world. Therefore, it’s a great vehicle by which we can bring the beauty of classical music to the younger generation, because they identify with the instrument. I would see this all the time with Segovia’s concerts. If I went to a classical pianist’s concert, I saw a pretty standard classical audience. If I went to Segovia’s concerts, I would see the rock and rollers, the jazz players, everybody. I really think the guitar has the capacity of doing that.”
In his musical life, Mr. Parkening has embodied the virtues of discipline and the pursuit of both musical greatness and the sense of natural musicality, a lifelong endeavor. At the same time, he has sought balance and escape from the foibles of a life in the spotlight, through fly fishing, teaching, family life, and an unabashed focus on his Christian faith.
Philosophically, he stresses “something that I try to pass along in my classes—just be the best that you can be, and let the success fall where it may. Then, you’ll always have fulfillment, having done your best.
“So many look at the end result and they over-glamorize being a guitarist. They want the success part of it. They don’t understand what it takes to discipline yourself and work very hard, to persevere at something.”