Staging a City Duet
Portland will host opening night, then Bach's back in Eugene
By Bob Keefer / The Register-Guard
The Oregon Bach Festival will move its opening night to Portland next summer, pushed out of town by the 2008 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials that begin on the very same night in Eugene.
"I never ever run away from a challenge," quipped John Evans, the festival's new executive director, as he announced the move at a champagne-imbibing news conference on Wednesday morning in downtown Eugene. "Unless, of course, the opportunity is too good to pass up."
Evans called the track Trials, which run from June 27 through July 6, "possibly the biggest event this track-obsessed city has ever seen." The Bach Festival runs from June 27 through July 13.
The festival orchestra and chorus, led by Artistic Director Helmuth Rilling, will perform the Bach B-minor Mass - the festival's signature piece - at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in downtown Portland on June 27; the festival musicians will return to Eugene the following evening to perform the B Minor at the Hult Center.
The Bach Festival played in Portland several times in the late 1970s and in 1980, before the Hult Center opened in 1982, but has not appeared there since.
Guest artists at the festival include Garrison Keillor; violin virtuoso Sarah Chang and conductor Nicholas McGegan performing Vivaldi's Four Seasons; a residency with the Shanghai Quartet, tied to the fact that the 2008 Olympics are in China; and an encore by popular piano playing siblings the 5 Browns.
Rilling will conduct Bach's St. Matthew and St. John passions and the Magnificat in addition to the B-minor Mass.
Evans, a former BBC radio executive, replaced co-founder Royce Saltzman as executive director after last summer's festival, promising to give the Bach festival a greater presence throughout the state. Add in the fact that the University of Oregon, which runs the festival, is expanding its own presence in Portland, and the opportunity seemed obvious, he said.
Reaction in the arts community was positive.
"Some people will be surprised - that's just the nature of the beast in Eugene - that there's an effort to take it to Portland," said Robert Canaga, curator at Opus6ix gallery in downtown Eugene and a longtime festival patron. "I think it's a great opportunity to present the Bach Festival to Portland."
"It's a good move," said Shedd Institute Executive Director Jim Ralph, who has tried setting his own performances in Portland, Corvallis and Florence, with mixed success.
"It's a very strong response on the part of the Bach Festival to a challenging set of conditions they were faced with."
The track Trials, which are expected to be sold out, do present a hurdle to the festival.
Most hotels and motels in Eugene are already booked during the track event; meanwhile, Bach tickets don't go on sale until January.
Evans said the festival has secured housing for the hundreds of performers who come to town for the festival and urged people who want to attend from out of town to make their lodging arrangements as early as possible.
"One reason I am making this (season) announcement so early is to ensure that all patrons, wherever they are, can make arrangements," he said.
Beyond the mechanics of hotel rooms and competing schedules, the festival is hoping to take as much advantage as possible of the crowds that will be in Eugene this summer to expand the festival's impact.
On July 1, an off night for the Trials, the festival will present a special tribute to Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman, featuring the world premiere of "Man of Oregon," a symphonic suite by Eugene composer Rebecca Oswald.
Evans also announced that the festival is working with Nike to create a new identity for itself. Nike is taking over design of the festival's poster, done in the past by various visual artists, and will unveil a festival branding campaign early next year, he said.