Prelude to a Farewell
By Bob Keefer
Published: Saturday, June 30, 2007
Royce Saltzman drew a standing ovation at Friday night's opening of the Oregon Bach Festival from the moment he walked onstage, before the music even began.
"Thank you," he said again and again and again, as the audience, the orchestra and the chorus came to their feet in tribute.
Saltzman tried to silence the Hult Center crowd, but the applause roared on, along with shouts of "Bravo!" all over the house.
Saltzman, the much-loved executive director and one of the founders of the 38-year-old summer Bach extravaganza, is retiring at the end of this year's festival.
"Thank you," he said one last time, abashed by the continuing applause. "It's a wonderful gift that you've just given me."
That emotional moment perfectly complemented the building drama of Johannes Brahms' "A German Requiem," which the festival chorus, orchestra and soloists began moments later under the direction of conductor Helmuth Rilling.
But it also focused attention on a sea change afoot at the 2 1/2 -week-long music festival.
This is a transitional year for the festival, which began here in 1970 as a summer choral workshop at the University of Oregon.
Saltzman, a music professor at the UO, and Rilling, a German conductor of Bach choral music, nurtured the festival into an event that has drawn worldwide attention.
On July 15, Saltzman is to be replaced by John Evans, a former BBC programming executive, who was also on hand for the evening's performance.
It's been a festival tradition to alternate Bach and non-Bach years, meaning that the three big choral works anchoring this year's festival are by Brahms, Haydn and Beethoven.
Before the concert, children attending the Pacific International Children's Choir Festival in Eugene sang a half-hour concert in the Hult lobby as music lovers swarmed in, drinking wine and saluting the beginning of the summer's biggest classical music event.
After the music stopped and the last bow had been made, the crowd stayed in the lobby for a catered reception, where patrons drank champagne and mingled with the musicians.
Among the enthusiastic audience members was Ira Jensen, who had driven from Cupertino, Calif., to attend the Bach Festival for the first time.
The 48-year-old teacher had nothing but praise for Eugene, for the Hult Center and for the festival, which he said he had been wanting to attend for years.
"The music was stupendous," he said. "I didn't know you could ever hear anything like this outside of Europe."