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Bach beats a path to Portland

  • Oct 19, 2007
Season-opening concert moves north as festival tries to broaden its audience Wednesday, October 17, 2007 The Oregonian DAVID STABLER For 38 years, Eugene has claimed the Oregon Bach Festival as its own. Now, it's going to share: For the first time, Portland will host the music festival's opening night, next June at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. The 17-day summer festival has long tried to draw audiences from Portland, but with limited success. Opening in Portland is a more direct attempt to broaden audiences, conceived by John Evans, the festival's new executive director. "It's part of a wider strategy," said the British-born Evans, who succeeded Royce Saltzman last summer. "It is, after all, the Oregon Bach Festival, not the Eugene Bach Festival." At a news conference in Eugene this morning, Evans plans to announce the festival's concert schedule, which coincides with the 2008 U.S. Olympic track and field trials at the University of Oregon's Hayward Field. Both events open June 27. That's why opening the Bach Festival out of town is a good idea, Evans said. "Going head to head, on the same evening, at the same start time, seemed insane," he said. "I want to build a relationship in Portland, and this seemed like a great opportunity to make a statement." Anticipating an influx of visitors to Eugene for the Olympic trials, the Bach Festival is pulling out the stops during its 39th season. For example on July 1, the festival will honor Bill Bowerman, University of Oregon's legendary track coach and a key patron of the Bach Festival, with a musical tribute and a screening of Oregon Public Broadcasting's film documentary on the legendary track figure. That evening will include appearances by Nike's Phil Knight and UO president Dave Frohnmayer. As part of the tribute to Bowerman, the festival orchestra will also perform a symphonic suite commissioned from composer Rebecca Oswald, a former UO music student. The festival draws musicians from around the world; next year, bigger-than-usual name artists will make appearances: humorist-author Garrison Keillor, star violinist Sarah Chang, Nicholas McGegan (the widely admired conductor of San Francisco's renowned Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra), and the Shanghai String Quartet. And Helmuth Rilling, the festival's founding artistic director and an international Bach expert, will conduct four of the composer's grandest choral works, the mighty B Minor Mass, both the St. Matthew and St. John Passions and the Magnificat. On Portland's opening night, June 27, Rilling will conduct the B Minor Mass, one of his favorite openers. To further strengthen its Portland ties, the festival plans to present the lively Portland Baroque Orchestra and its charismatic leader, Monica Huggett, in both Portland and Eugene in 2009, Evans said. Future festivals may present other Portland musicians. San Francisco's Philharmonia may also appear in Eugene. It's all part of Evans' strategy to make the festival less insular: "I want to get more of a feel of an international festival." Tickets go on sale Jan. 21.