Ara Guzelimian first attended the Ojai Music Festival, the laboratory of musical innovation in Southern California, as a teenager. In 1974, as a college student, he performed at the festival as a member of U.C.L.A.’s a cappella choir. And from 1992 to 1997, he was Ojai’s artistic director.
So when the festival suddenly found itself in need of a new leader earlier this month, after its incoming artistic director, Chad Smith, was named chief executive officer of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, it was only natural to reach out to Mr. Guzelimian.
The festival announced on Thursday that he had agreed to take — or retake — the job.
“It felt a little like Odysseus coming home after all his journeys,” said Mr. Guzelimian, whose post-Ojai life has brought him to Carnegie Hall, as senior director and artistic adviser, and the Juilliard School, as provost and dean, a position he had already planned to step down from next June.
Ojai’s original succession plan — for Mr. Smith to follow Thomas W. Morris, whose 16-year run as artistic director ended in June — was upended by management upheaval at the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
It was initially announced that Mr. Smith, who had been widely admired as the Philharmonic’s adventurous chief programmer, would become Ojai’s artistic director for three years beginning in 2020, while keeping his job in Los Angeles. But last month the Philharmonic’s chief executive, Simon Woods, abruptly left after less than two years in the position, and within weeks the orchestra announced that Mr. Smith would succeed him.
Officials at both the orchestra and the festival initially said there would be no change in Mr. Smith’s status at Ojai. But that would have left him in charge of a major June festival just 75 miles away from the Los Angeles Philharmonic and its popular summer home, the Hollywood Bowl. And it was difficult to envision the chief executive of an orchestra with a $125 million budget finding time for another gig.
Both sides rethought the matter, and while Mr. Smith will remain in charge of next year’s Ojai Festival, he will then step down.
He said in a statement that his premature departure from Ojai was “bittersweet,” but that the festival “deserves the full creative energies of its artistic director and the L.A. Phil requires the singular focus of its C.E.O.”
Ojai has an unusual structure: Its artistic director picks a different music director to plan the programming for each festival. The selections have included composers, conductors, singers, instrumentalists, an ensemble (Eighth Blackbird), a stage director (Peter Sellars), and even a choreographer (Mark Morris) — and several who have sprawled over more than one of those categories, such as Pierre Boulez, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Vijay Iyer and Barbara Hannigan. The composer and conductor Matthias Pintscher is music director for next June.
Mr. Guzelimian said that his first task would be planning the season in which he returns: 2021, which is also the festival’s 75th anniversary.
Michael Cooper covers classical music and dance. He was previously a national correspondent; a political reporter covering presidential campaigns; and a metro reporter covering the police, City Hall and Albany. @coopnytimes • Facebook
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