Oregon Bach Festival
|Location(s)||Eugene, Oregon, USA|
|Date(s)||June through July, annually|
The Oregon Bach Festival (OBF) is an annual celebration of the works of Johann Sebastian Bach and his musical legacy, held in Eugene, Oregon, United States, in late June and early July. The artistic director is British harpsichordist, organist, and conductor Matthew Halls and the Executive Director is John Evans, formerly of the BBC. The role of artistic director was previously held by German organist and conductor Helmuth Rilling.
About the festival
The festival's programming is three-fold. It presents a diverse slate of concerts and guest artists, which in recent years has included non-Bach-related programs by Garrison Keillor, Bobby McFerrin, Frederica von Stade and Yo-Yo Ma ; it maintains a focus on choral-orchestral repertoire, including commissions and premieres; and it undertakes extensive educational activities, most famously a conducting master class that draws participants from around the world as well as a Youth Choral Academy directed by conductor Anton Armstrong of St. Olaf College. The Wall Street Journal has called the OBF "one of the world’s leading music festivals".
The Oregon Bach Festival is a donor-supported program of the University of Oregon. The activities of the festival are concentrated at Eugene's Hult Center for the Performing Arts and at the University of Oregon's School of Music & Dance, primarily at Beall Hall.
The festival was founded in 1970 by German conductor Helmuth Rilling and the former president of the American Choral Directors Association, Royce Saltzman, as an informal series of classes and concerts at the University of Oregon. By the late 1970s, the roster had expanded to include full-scale choral-orchestral performances. Although originally inspired by the music of Bach, the festival quickly moved beyond a strict boundary of repertoire. Bach, however, remains a centerpiece of the festival via Helmuth Rilling's conducting master class, which leads students through Cantatas, Masses, Passions, and other such choral works. Additionally, the festival frequently performs the largest Bach works with full forces; for example, in the 300th-anniversary year of Bach's birth in 1985, the festival performed the St. John Passion, St. Matthew Passion, B-minor Mass, and all six Brandenburg Concertos, culminating in an appearance at the Hollywood Bowl. The success of the Bach Festival model and structure led Helmuth Rilling to create the Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart and several other Bach Academies around the world.
In addition to the leadership of Helmuth Rilling, many other musicians have developed long-term relationships with the OBF. Conductor and pianist Jeffrey Kahane has been performing at the festival for over 20 years, and musicologist Robert Levin has also been a frequent participant. Baroque specialist Monica Huggett has appeared as an ensemble leader in 2009 and 2010. Baritone Thomas Quasthoff made his American debut at the OBF in 1995 and has returned several times since. Recent appearances have also been made by Midori, Sarah Chang, the Kronos Quartet, The Five Browns, and a variety of other classical stars. The festival also hosts "cross-over" or popular acts like Garrison Keillor, Savion Glover, Pink Martini, and PDQ Bach.
The festival in the 21st century
Royce Saltzman retired in 2006 and was replaced as Executive Director by John Evans, a former BBC producer and published Benjamin Britten scholar. Since Evans's arrival in 2007, the festival has expanded to include concerts throughout Oregon, including at Portland's Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall and Bend's Tower Theatre. Recent seasons have also included collaborations with other regional arts organizations, including the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Portland Baroque Orchestra, and Eugene Ballet. The Festival has also completed its first endowment campaign, raising over $10 million.
The 2010 festival, billed as a 40th-anniversary gala year, included appearances by Quasthoff, Pink Martini, Bobby McFerrin, Robert Levin and Ya-Fei Chuang, and the Portland Baroque Orchestra. It also featured a Bernstein celebration featuring a residency by Jamie Bernstein.
In 2010 the festival announced the formation of a search committee to find a successor to Helmuth Rilling. In August 2011, OBF Executive Director John Evans announced that 35-year-old British conductor and keyboardist Matthew Halls, who has made significant conducting debuts with the Houston Symphony, Bach Collegium Stuttgart, Berlin Radio Symphony, and Frankfurt Radio Symphony, as well as founding and leading the pioneering Retrospect Ensemble, will assume artistic leadership of the University of Oregon event after the 2013 season. Phyllis and Andy Berwick donated $7.25 million to the festival in 2014, which is the largest gift in the group's history.
The festival has commissioned, co-commissioned, or presented premieres of numerous musical works, including:
- Felix Mendelssohn, The Uncle from Boston (world premiere of rediscovered manuscript)
- Stephen Paulus, Symphony for Strings (world premiere)
- Arvo Pärt, Litany (world premiere)
- Osvaldo Golijov, Oceana (world premiere) 
- Krzyztof Penderecki, Credo (world premiere) 
- Tan Dun, Water Passion (American premiere) 
- Sven-David Sandström, Messiah (world premiere) 
The festival has also initiated a media partnership with Minnesota Public Radio that provides for the syndication and worldwide broadcast of live concert recordings.
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