California’s Newest Music Festival Celebrates the State’s Multicultural Musical History

The California Festival: A Celebration of New Music will take place over two weeks in November and will feature the most exciting classical and jazz pieces created in the past five years.

From left: San Diego Symphony Music Director Rafael Payare, San Francisco Symphony Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen, and  L.A. Phil Music & Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel

The California Festival will be a celebration of the state’s storied, multicultural musical heritage.

Courtesy of the California Festival

There’s been an age-old, sibling-like rivalry between Northern and Southern California that seemingly goes all the way back to the founding of the state. However, an olive branch has finally been extended—in the world of classical music at least. The Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Diego Symphony, and San Francisco Symphony have joined forces to create the California Festival: A Celebration of New Music, a two-week event November 3–19, 2023, to spotlight classical and jazz compositions published within the past five years.

The festival was dreamed up by by L.A. Phil Music & Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel (who recently announced he will be leaving Los Angeles to join the New York Philharmonic in 2026 once his contract ends), San Diego Symphony Music Director Rafael Payare, and San Francisco Symphony Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen. The trio hope to showcase the richness of California’s music history through a series of concerts and events.

“For more than a century, California has been a home for musical experimentation,” the three composers said in a joint statement. “It is where countless composers came, fleeing war and intolerance, and found stability and freedom of expression that allowed them to transcend the strict artistic boundaries they had constructed for themselves.”

Rather than taking place at one venue, the California Festival will span the entire state and concerts will take place in various concert halls (such as the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles), auditoriums, colleges, and small, community spaces. A full lineup and details on events have yet to be announced, but more than 50 different organizations—including symphony orchestras, jazz ensembles, and choirs—have confirmed their participation. Audiences can look forward to performances helmed by emerging composers like Jens Ibsen, who won the 2022 San Francisco Conservatory’s Emerging Black Composers Project, as well as icons of the Californian classical music scene like musical minimalist Terry Riley. A project led by Gabriela Ortiz will examine Californian identity and its connection to Central and South America. Ibsen and Riley will perform in San Francisco while Ortiz’s concert will be held in L.A.

Live music will, of course, be the main attraction of the festival, but the event hopes to strike a multidisciplinary tone by inviting artists of different media to join in. The composers hope that by including as many voices and different types of artists in the festival as possible, they’ll capture the inclusivity and diversity that make the state so special and that they feel is one of its greatest strengths.

“Today,” they said, “California—a state with the economic power of a country, the ecological diversity of a continent, and the cultural diversity of the planet—represents a powerful vision for classical music.”

Mae Hamilton is a former associate editor at Afar. She covers all things related to arts, culture, and the beautiful things that make travel so special.
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