“Baton Not Tuned To Train’s Wail” Ojai Valley News, June 3, 1989
By Bob Bryan
The year was 1967, and the Ventura-Ojai orange train—locomotive, one freight car and a caboose—was coming ’round the bend making less than 90 miles an hour when its whistle broke into a deep-throated blast. It was a familiar sound, even appreciated by some as it floated up the Ojai Valley. There, Maestro Pierre Boulez, standing on the podium with baton raised, prepared to give the downbeat that would begin that year’s Ojai Festival.
The opening number was listed as the Schoenberg String Quartet No. 2, arranged for string orchestra; its harmonics, according to the program notes, would be “unconventional, even irrational.” Nobody had said anything about a whistle.
When train whistle and raised baton coincided for the third time, Maestro Boulez walked off stage with just a touch of Gallic impatience. He was replaced, after a hurried conference backstage, by Ted Lillefelt, that year’s festival president.
An apology was offered and a question posed to the assembled music lovers: Would it not be better if the opening number of the Ojai Festival 1967 were delayed until such time as the orange train could continue on to Ojai’s packinghouse, as it was required to do daily? There it would reverse itself and come through town again, passing once more to the rear of the Festivals Bowl.
The first-night audience clapped its approval.
About 10 minutes later the orange train passed through once again, hooting jubilantly as if wishing well to the proceedings. There was an answering applause from the audience, and then everybody settled down to give Schoenberg his turn.
Open-air concerts in Ojai’s Festival Bowl have included the gentle ostinato of resident crickets and birds, a feature that Oliver Messiaen, a composer who has written music in honor of birds, found to his liking during his tenure as resident composer of the Ojai Festival.
The birds still sing, but some things that once were are no longer. There will be no freight train whistle this weekend in Ojai for Maestro Boulez or, for that matter, any future conductor of the festival. The orange train doesn’t run here anymore.