2003 Season • Article/Feature
Bobbing to the Music
June 22, 2003
By Fred Crafts of The Register-Guard.
Maestro Helmuth Rilling is looking forward to G.F. Handel’s oratorio “Jephtha.” Pianist Jeffrey Kahane is toning up to play Ludwig van Beethoven’s five piano concertos. And administrator Royce Saltzman is excited over the “Bach and Ballet” program at the 2003 Oregon Bach Festival.
But for marketer George Evano, this year’s hot item is – get ready to rush the Bach’s office – the Helmuth Rilling bobble head doll.
Yes, yes, heads have definitely been shaking around the festival offices over the mini-maestro gyrating on Evano’s desk.
There stands Rilling – all 7 1/2 inches of him, dressed in black concert tails, a toothpick-sized baton in one hand and a sizzling cigar in the other, shakin’ his bobbin’ noggin.
“We often think George is a bit crazy. Then he comes up with something like this, and we all think he’s a genius,” says Saltzman about Evano’s latest light-hearted creative endeavor.
Evano, the festival’s director of communications, was spinning ideas for a gift that would stand out at Rilling’s 70th birthday party on May 29 in Stuttgart, Germany, when he recalled a suggestion made last fall by the festival’s assistant choral director, Peter Hopkins, who thought a Helmuth Rilling bobble head might make a dandy fund-raising prize.
It’s taken several months for various visual artists – working from photographs – to capture Rilling’s likeness, but they’ve nailed him, right down to his trademark glasses, turtleneck shirt and cufflinks.
In fact, initial reaction to the reeling Rillings has been so positive that Evano has doubled his order. Some 500 bobble heads will be sold at festival boutiques for $25 each. Autographed likenesses will cost more.
A novelty figure who just can’t stand still is not inappropriate for a masterful multi-tasker like Rilling, who has been at the heart of the festival for the past 33 years. This year, in typical Rilling style, he will conduct major concerts, give lectures, hold master classes (for emerging conductors) and generally be the glue that holds the June 27-July 13 festival together.
On opening night, Rilling will put his stamp on the festival by conducting a rarely performed choral-orchestral treat, Handel’s oratorio “Jephtha.”
“I consider `Jephtha’ to be one of the strongest oratorios which Handel has written,” Rilling said by phone from his home in Stuttgart. “It’s a very moving story, and Handel’s music to it is great, with wonderful highlights and very special arias. It will be wonderful.”
After “Jephtha,” Rilling will turn to Johannes Brahms’ “A German Requiem” (being brought back in commemoration of the Hult Center’s 20th anniversary season), Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto (featuring soloist Alyssa Park, who was in residence last year as a visiting faculty member at the University of Oregon School of Music), J.S. Bach’s Magnificat and W.A. Mozart’s Mass in C Minor, among others.
It’s a lineup that Saltzman believes makes the 2003 festival “the most music-friendly festival we have ever had.”
Although Saltzman notes that the festival is loaded with masterworks by heavyweights such as “the Three Bs – Bach, Beethoven and Brahms” – it also has the widest range of musical genres in memory, including concertos, cantatas, motets, suites, an oratorio, a magnificat, a mass and a requiem, among others.
Breaking with precedent, the festival also will have two special dance events. It has commissioned the Eugene Ballet’s Toni Pimble to create two ballets, and it has asked pianist Robert Levin and tai chi expert Chungliang Al Huang to do a music-and-movement piece, all to Bach’s music.
The festival also will include an African-American gospel mass, sung by the Youth Choral Academy, conducted by Anton Armstrong.
Returning this year are some of the festival’s most popular artists, including Kahane, Levin and Armstrong, as well as Guy Few, Kathleen Lenski and James Taylor (last here in 1998).
Also returning are soprano Elizabeth Keusch, last heard in the 2002 premiere of Tan Dun’s “Water Passion After Saint Matthew,” along with lute player Paul O’Dette and organist William Porter.
Topping the list of sure audience draws are two concerts: pianist-conductor Kahane performing all five of Beethoven’s piano concertos in two programs (concertos 2, 3, and 4 on July 1 and 1 and 5 on July 3) and the festival chamber orchestra playing Bach’s rousing Brandenburg Concertos.
This year’s festival does not have a preponderance of pieces that demand large musical forces. Instead, the emphasis will be on chamber ensembles, including the festival chamber orchestra, which will be front and center with the Brandenburg Concertos and with motets and cantatas in the afternoon Discovery series.
And the same vocal soloists will be used from start to finish, rather than bringing in new vocal soloists for separate programs.
None of this is by accident. Saltzman decided last fall to go conservative in response to the tough economic times.
“I made a commitment to the finance committee that we had to have a balanced budget for this year,” he says.
By trimming $110,000 from the musical expenses, he seems well on his way.
Of course, ticket sales will be the key. Based on experience, the 17-day festival can be expected to draw an audience of 35,000 patrons from more than 30 states and five countries.
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