Bach Festival worth a trip halfway around the globe

  • Jul 29, 2008
[caption id="attachment_2954" align="alignright" width="174" caption="Photo: Gideon Hart"][/caption]This Op-Ed appeared in the July 29, 2008 Register-Guard. A management guru once shared with me the truism that leadership, however fired in its purpose or inspired in its execution, is purposeless unless one has something worth leading and fighting for. With the Oregon Bach Festival I have both: an arts program with an extraordinary legacy and an artistic and management team with great professional skills and personal dedication. Without Helmuth Rilling and the supremely gifted musicians he attracts to Eugene each summer I would not have travelled half way round the world for this job and without the selfless dedication of the people I’m privileged to work with I would not have stayed. That said, it’s quite a stretch for anyone’s imagination or experience, having spent half of one’s life living in London - one of the most vibrant metropolitan cities in the world - to contemplate life in Eugene. What I miss most about England is family and friends, but also the Georgian house I had to sell in order to move here. I’d remodelled it some years’ back and it held many great memories for me, though not as many as it held for itself – it was built in 1824! I traded it in for a London pied-a-terre on the Thames at Battersea Reach and a house in North Eugene, both of the same vintage - neither more than five years old. I must confess I really miss old buildings, particularly the profound architecture and warm resonant acoustic of medieval churches and great English cathedrals. When I go back to the UK now I feel like a tourist, needing to get into Westminster Abbey or to Salisbury Cathedral, to get my fix of European history frozen in stone and marble. I also miss the London arts scene and late-night post-theatre suppers with friends, talking at Joe Allen’s restaurant well into the early hours of the morning. But change is good and adapting has often been fun, not least for my colleagues, who are frequently amused about just how different the English language and manners are from American. I can do nothing about the accent, I’m afraid, but I now understand that inviting guests to wear ‘lounge suits’ to a reception is unwise, and it would be better to suggest a ‘business suit’. Also there are words, phrases or sayings in common parlance in the UK that can amuse, sometimes outrage, or even offend a west coast American. Yes, we are, indeed, two nations divided by the same language. I’m also learning about your sports, well one can hardly avoid them in this town! I’ve been to my first football game and seen the Ducks thrash the Bears at Autzen, and cheer on a guy no taller than me on the home basketball team, out-whit and out-play the twin towers of Stanford. Go Ducks! And while we at the Bach Festival were having one of our best Festivals ever this season, I witnessed the triumphant success of Eugene 08 at Hayward Field – what a very remarkable city this is – truly one of the greatest for the outdoors and the arts. Which brings me the extraordinary success we enjoyed this year at the Bach Festival and a word about two of its unsung heroes: OBF founder Royce Saltzman and Board President Betsy Richanbach. Royce is simply one of the most generous people I have encountered in thirty years in this business and his achievement in founding this Festival with Helmuth and sustaining it over almost four decades – with integrity, imagination and, yes, guts – is a terrific legacy for this community. He has been extraordinarily generous to me personally, with his time and advice (as has his darling wife, Phyllis), always ready to provide wise counsel but never presuming to interfere or judge. Royce's final Festival last year was an artistic, critical and financial success and provided me with a great launching pad of my tenure. Moreover, he provided me with two winning tickets for this year’s Festival, the Garrison Keillor show and the Bowerman Gala, both of which he had initiated before his retirement. Well how would a Brit know how important Bill Bowerman was to this town and the Bach Festival, or how much of a draw Keillor continues to be for American audiences after all these years? And as to Betsy, well this lady’s awesome! (You see I am learning American.) Betsy’s two-year tenure as OBF Board President embraced Royce’s last and my first as executive director; she sat on the search committee that appointed me, where she voiced not only her personal views but, crucially, represented those of Helmuth Rilling during the search process; and she worked with the University of Oregon (our parent organization) on the much-need revision and updating of the OBF Board Charter and Bylaws, working tirelessly throughout these past two years, with a level of dedication that was above and beyond the call of duty. Yes this was a journey worth making and an organization worth leading; and this year was just the start of another great chapter in the success story that is the Oregon Bach Festival. John Evans President & Executive Director Oregon Bach Festival