In 1994, a group of arts advocates, business leaders and local politicians declared that Ventura should claim its rightful place as a regional cultural Mecca. Those ideas gave birth to the Ventura Chamber Music Festival, set in the city’s historic downtown core.
Under the direction of Dr. Burns Taft, the festival proved an immediate success, selling out many events. Concerts featured nationally known singers, instrumentalists, ensembles and chamber orchestras performing in historic, architecturally unique settings in downtown Ventura. Lively pre-concert conversations with the artists also won over crowds.
Today the festival stands as one of the county’s signature events, attracting upwards of 6,000 concertgoers during the end of April and beginning of May.
In 2003, the festival’s board named violinist and conductor Nuvi Mehta to lead the event into an era of world-class performers and eclectic programming. Renamed The Ventura Music Festival, Mehta has presented violinists Cho-Liang Lin and Leila Josefowicz, guitarists Sharon Isbin and Christopher Parkening, singers Nicole Cabell and David Lomeli and pianists Giuseppe Albanese and Alexander Ghindin.
The festival broadened its musical appeal with crossover artists, such as Branford Marsalis, Diane Schuur, Chris Brubeck, Eddie Daniels, Mark O’Connor and Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band. Trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, percussionist Poncho Sanchez and saxophonist Pacquito D’Rivera have headlined the festival’s Latin-jazz concerts in February with legendary percussionist Pete Escovedo scheduled for the 2010 show. In May 2010, jazz legend Herbie Hancock headlined the 3rd annual “crossover” concert outdoors at the Ventura College green. Over 2,500 fans were enthralled by 2011’s sensation, trumpeter Chris Botti and in 2008, Portland, Oregon-based Pink Martini.
Each year, the festival focuses on a specific theme, amplified by Mehta’s choice of artists and repertoire and highlighted during concert talks, lectures and interviews.
Mehta also carries his passion for teaching from the concert hall into local classrooms. His “Music in the Schools” educational outreach series of live performance, stories and one-on-one interaction reach 4,000 area school children each season at over 24 elementary schools, the Oxnard and Ventura Boys & Girls Clubs and Casa Pacifica.
The Ventura Music Festival is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Donations are tax deductible.