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Bowerman tribute concert an entertaining, eclectic mix of music, video

  • Jul 3, 2008
[caption id="attachment_2980" align="alignright" width="219" caption="Theresa, Barbara, and Jay Bowerman celebrate following the concert."][/caption]After glowing encomiums to and fond remembrances of Bill Bowerman from University of Oregon President Dave Frohnmayer and Oregon Bach Festival co-founder Helmuth Rilling, there seemed little more that could be said Tuesday in praise of the famous track coach at the Bach Festival’s program in his honor. Two-thirds of the way through the largely musical program, however, Steven Bass, president of Oregon Public Broadcasting, summarized Bowerman’s influence with two extraordinary facts: Without Bowerman there would be no Olympic Trials taking place in Eugene today, and there would be no Oregon Bach Festival. This is a profound legacy to leave to a community, one that spans two areas that, in today’s society, are kept in different corners of our experience and in different sections of our newspapers. Athletics and classical music rarely go together, but they did in Bowerman’s life. And Oregon, especially Eugene, has been the beneficiary. Bowerman was lauded not as a saint but as a visionary common man. The musical program began with the brass section of the Oregon Bach Festival Orchestra playing a stirring version of Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” while video clips of Bowerman and his runners were projected on a screen. The musical highlight of the evening, for me, came when the full Bach orchestra and chorus presented three movements from J.S. Bach’s Easter Oratorio. At first, it seemed a strange choice until Rilling explained that the text began with “Come, hurry and run.” Each section was played with exemplary precision. Rilling conducted the Sinfonia with a light touch, Allan Vogel demonstrated stunning tone and breath control in his oboe solo in the Adagio, and the chorus sang its one piece with bright rhythmic precision and diction. The evening was not without humor, either, as Rilling literally ran off and on stage to take his bows. Two sections of the program needed no explanation. The first was a composition commissioned by the Bowerman family depicting Bill Bowerman’s life, and the second was Oregon Public Broadcasting’s documentary, “Oregon Experience: Bill Bowerman.” Rebecca Oswald’s composition was a pastiche of tunes and styles reflecting music from Bowerman’s life. American folk songs blended with fight songs from Medford High School and the University of Oregon and with Bach’s music; dissonances recalled World War II, in which Bowerman served, and the Munich Olympics, for which he was the U.S. track coach and which also witnessed the terrorist attack on Israeli athletes. Not exceptional as a musical composition, it did vividly outline Bowerman’s life. “Oregon Experience” is an ongoing series on OPB, and one of its early programs was on the life of Bowerman. This show was one of the highlights of the program, drawing laughs when former runners Phil Knight and Kenny Moore described Bowerman’s intractable demand for excellence and his means of attaining it. Bowerman’s support of the Oregon Bach Festival did not garner as much attention as it should have in the documentary, but the audience did learn throughout the evening that what Frohnmayer called the “gem of the university” would not have prospered without Bowerman’s early philanthropy. Finally, the Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy took the stage for a series of short songs, all directed by the inspirational Anton Armstrong. Again, this seemed a strange choice at first for a program on a track coach, but when one thinks that Bowerman preferred to be called a teacher and not a coach, the choice made perfect sense. This youth arm of the Bach Festival is all about teaching the next generation of musicians. As usual, the group sang with enthusiasm and a maturity that belied their years. It was a fitting closure. Marilyn Farwell, a professor emerita of English at the University of Oregon, reviews music for The Register-Guard. Posted with permission.