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Concert bids farewell to Rilling, greets Halls

  • Jul 8, 2013
By John Farnworth From The Register-Guard PUBLISHED: 12:00 A.M., JULY 8 The Hult Center’s Silva Concert Hall on Saturday was the site of a momentous landmark in the history of the Oregon Bach Festival. For the first time in its 44-year chronicle, we watched the “changing of the guard” of the festival’s artistic director. 0706-5363 “Rilling and Halls: The Passing of the Baton” was a symbolic transfer of the conducting duties of the festival’s orchestra and choruses from German co-founder Helmuth Rilling (who recently celebrated his 80th birthday) to the 30-something-year-old Englishman, Matthew Halls, one of the skyrocketing younger stars of the classical music firmament. The evening’s entertainment commenced with an announcement by Executive Director John Evans that there would be a surprise event at the end of the concert that even Maestro Rilling did not know about, and that everyone should stay in their seats after the last music on the program concluded. The first half of the concert consisted of Johannes Brahm’s Concerto in A minor for Violin and Cello, opus 102, a typically densely orchestrated work, featuring the two soloists engaged in a rhapsodic interplay of themes, cadenzas and musical developments and recapitulations. Rilling conducted, unusually from a score. He normally conducts from memory. The very capable soloists were Rilling’s daughter, violinist Rahel and her cellist husband David Adorjian. The OBF orchestra was in particularly fine form, the strings perfectly synchronized, delivering the typical Brahmsian rocking melodies festooned with dotted rhythms and triplets with power and élan. The second theme, a lovely, sweet melody, was especially well delivered by both soloists, and echoed by the orchestra. The second movement was, quite simply, gorgeous. The principal melody was introduced by the soloists, playing an octave apart, then echoed by the orchestral violins and cellos. The third movement, featuring a Hungarian dance motif, was played with gusto and brilliance. Rilling’s conducting style, which we have come to know and love, is restrained but capable of pulling wonderful sounds and innuendos from the orchestra. The second half of the concert was led by Halls. He conducted first Felix Mendelssohn’s Psalm 95, opus 46, “Kommt, Lasst uns anbeten.” The full orchestra was joined by the combined forces of the Berwick Chorus of the OBF and part of the Stangeland Famiily Youth Chorus, some 100-plus voices all told, plus three soloists. The large chorus’s astounding coordination and enunciation must be credited to the brilliant work of chorus master Kathy Saltzman Romey; the vocal sound was overwhelming. The three soloists, Tamara Wilson, Roxana Constantinescu and Nicholas Phan all sang admirably and distinctly. Halls’ conducting style is in direct contrast to Rilling’s. His is a very dynamic, physical and animated approach, which clearly moved orchestra and chorus to deliver their very best performances. The last work on the program was Brahms’ “Schicksaslied” (“Song of Destiny”) magnificently performed by the orchestra and a chorus of about 50 voices. It was reminiscent of the composer’s famous German Requiem, at times peaceful and blissful, at others angry and forceful. It ended with an elegiac, inward looking, almost whispering fading away of sound. The surprise announced earlier by Evans was, in fact, an a capella piece titled “Alleluia,” written by Scottish composer James MacMillan in honor of Rilling’s birthday retirement from the OBF. The music reminded me of the movement “Neptune” from Gustav Holst’s “The Planets.” Rilling and his wife, Martina, were seated on stage, facing the choir, and listened to the 13-minute piece, obviously moved by the music and the moment. John Farnworth of Vida reviews classical music for The Register-Guard.