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Festival co-founder retiring with heap of good memories

  • Jun 30, 2007
By Bob Keefer The Register-Guard Published: Thursday, June 28, 2007 Every proud parent should be allowed a moment or two for unabashed gloating. We asked Oregon Bach Festival co-founder Royce Saltzman, who is stepping down from the post of executive director after this year's festival, to list a few of his fondest memories from the nearly four decades he has run the organization with artistic director Helmuth Rilling. "Helmuth and I gave birth to this organization about 38 years ago," he said. "We have seen that child grow over the years through its infancy and teenage years. So as a parent, at some point in time your child either gets married or goes away to college, you have mixed feelings. You're sad. On the other side you're excited, and that's the way I feel." The festival is all grown up now and ready for a new life with John Evans at the helm. Evans, a former British Broadcasting Corp. programming executive, is in town for this year's festival and will officially become executive director when Saltzman steps down July 15. One of the biggest milestones for the festival, Saltzman said, was is the opening of the Hult Center 25 years ago, giving the festival a bigger and more spectacular venue for big choral works than the university's Beall Concert Hall. "That was a major factor in the life of the festival," Saltzman said. "When we tried to do major choral works in Beall Hall like the `Missa Solemnis' - well, it was almost impossible to do them in a small hall." The Hult Center, he said, changed the focus of the festival, bringing it off campus and making it look and feel more uptown. Other highlights include: • Doing the world premiere of Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki's Credo as the final concert of the 1998 festival. A recording of that performance won a Grammy. The festival is currently recording three Franz Joseph Haydn masses to be released in 2009, the 200th anniversary of his death. • The festival has also brought a long lineup of international classical music stars to Eugene. Among them: soprano Arlene Auger, bass baritone Thomas Quasthoff, mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade and pianist and conductor Jeffrey Kahane. "All these helped to move the festival forward in terms of people's perceptions," he said. • Taking the show on the road. In 1983 and 1985, the festival performed at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. They've also performed in Phoenix, Ariz., and in Minneapolis, and once performed Mendelssohn's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" on the outdoor stage at the Oregon Shakepeare Festival. • The festival has always focused on education, from master conducting classes with Rilling to involvement with school children. "Over the years students have come from 30 different countries to study with Helmuth," he said. "This summer we will have students from Malaysia, Taiwan, Colombia, Brazil and from Israel, besides the U.S. So the impact of the festival's educational component continues to be far reaching." • And then there are the critics. The festival has attracted lavish attention from the national media over the years. One of Saltzman's favorite lines - he can just about recite it by heart - came from Paul Hume of the Washington Post. "What Rilling does in the Oregon Bach Festival is astonishing," the critic wrote. From the standpoint of the amount of work he'll be doing in the next couple of weeks, this festival won't be too different from any other, Saltzman says, except for one thing: "I have to keep reminding myself: Next year I don't have to do this," he said.