Artistic Director Spotlight: Gregory Oh, Open Ears Festival

Open Ears welcomes a new Artistic Director to the fold for the 2014 Festival. Gregory Oh, known for being a “new music revolutionary” is a renowned concert pianist, conductor and musical director.  We checked in with Gregory to get the scoop on his vision and plans for one of Waterloo Region’s favourite festivals coming later this month.
This is your first full festival as Artistic Director, would you tell us about your vision for this year’s festival and how your programming choices will reflect it?
Every community is held together by its stories, and I wanted to tell the stories of our region and also find some new ones. Our stories, even at their most intimate, are compelling and often universal. We have many local artists participating – Majdi Bou-Matar, Mike Farwell, junctQín keyboard collective, PSQ, Leslie Ting, DaCapo Chamber Choir and InterArts Matrix plus Kitchener-native John Millard and his Polka Dogs in addition to the many artists brought from near and far.
What were your takeaways from the first mini-festival you programmed in Kitchener last fall and did that learning impact your choices for the 2014 Festival? In what way?
I confirmed what I always suspected – Kitchener is a hub of cultural innovation, and there is an amazing support for creative art in the community. I am a bit of a risk-taker, and that’s why it is so gratifying to be in a community willing to give the unfamiliar a chance.
There seems to be an increase in programming for the 2014 Festival.  Is that true and if so, what was the thinking behind that change?
This is by far our biggest festival in terms of size and duration. I didn’t intend this – I guess when I was brainstorming ideas I liked so many of them that I just made the festival longer. With any luck, it’ll also be our most successful!
Open Ears has always had close ties to other arts organizations in the community but this is the first time the festival has partnered with CAFKA to present concurrent events.  What was the inspiration for this new endeavor? What do you anticipate will be the impact on audience experience?
I alluded to this before – this region is known for technology, but to me it is a wellspring of cultural innovation. With CAFKA and Open Ears running at the same time, and bringing in IAM, PSQ Quartetfest, the Summer Lights Festival and other local groups, we are creating an incredible experience to be had. Our artists tell our stories, and what a wealth of stories that will be told across all mediums in June! Also – what a wonderful excuse for friends and family to visit!
You’ve worked on an intriguing range of projects in your career already across many different genres and mediums.  What are your musical influences and what keeps you always moving towards new creative ideas and experiences?
I’ve always gravitated towards the art of our time. I think that rather than wishing for happiness, I’ve always wanted richness in my life, and nothing is more enriching than the artists among us that speak about us to us. I love many types of music, but I even love music I don’t like – that’s important – to have opinions and tastes but to also embrace what is scary or unfamiliar.
How do you balance the many faces and projects of Gregory Oh from concert pianist to theatre director, conductor and now Artistic Director of Open Ears?
Hmm…your guess is as good as mine.
What are your hopes and goals for the Open Ears Festival under your direction?
Continue to enrich the region. Continue to be enriched by the region. Try as hard as we can to create something truly innovative and wonderful, and don’t be afraid to fail.

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