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Tribute: Royce Saltzman, Advocate for the Arts

  • Feb 12, 2009

Royce Saltzman, 2009 Advocate for the Arts Award

Introduction by Roger Saydack How do you introduce a man who has accomplished so much? I could describe the many honors and awards Royce has received, such as:
  • The Order of the Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany;
  • The University of Oregon Distinguished Service Award;
  • Eugene’s First Citizen Award; and
  • The Presidency of the International Federation for Choral Music.
But let’s consider for a few moments something more specific, and more personal. Let’s talk about what Royce has meant to the arts in Eugene, and how his great career has enriched our City. Of course, for many, what comes to mind first about Royce is not necessarily his accomplishments as an arts administrator, but his great talent and spirit as a singer. Imagine all those years of Oregon basketball at Mac Court without Royce’s stirring rendition of our national anthem. He burned the paint off the floor. He absolutely nailed it every time. Royce, we miss you at Mac Court. Royce raised the bar for the arts in Eugene in more ways than we may realize. Many of our standards of excellence in the arts were established by Royce and the Oregon Bach Festival. He was our first, great arts administrator. Royce founded the Bach Festival in 1970 with Helmuth Rilling, and Rilling, of course, deserves much credit for its success. But remember, Rilling spends two, maybe three weeks a year in Eugene. Royce was here all year long. With his great staff and Board, Royce laid the ground work for each year’s Festival. He planned many of the programs; raised the money; he inspired his staff, his Board and the community. And he kept the flame burning all year long for those wonderful concerts in the summer. Royce showed us how a great arts administrator sets the stage and makes it possible for the art to happen.

Artistic Innovation

Royce created a culture of artistic innovation at the Festival that produced an impressive number of commissions and premieres of some of the most important choral/orchestral works of the last 40 years. This is innovation that is every bit as valuable, as difficult and as challenging as the research and development work of the University. Here are a few examples of these achievements:
  • Krzytof Penderecki, “Credo,” which resulted in a Grammy award for the Festival
  • Arvo Paart, “Litany”
  • Osvaldo Golijov, “Oceana”
Consider also just a few of the artists who made their American debuts at the Festival, and have gone on to world-wide fame:
  • The renowned bass/baritone, Thomas Quastoff;
  • Christine Schaeffer, the great soprano;
  • And Michael Schade, the fine tenor.
They were not famous singers when the first came to the Festival, but they are today. And then there are the Festival’s explorations of seldom heard repertoire: more than 1000 different pieces over the years This is artistic risk taking that was often nothing short of courageous. The Festival at its innovative best has been a model for the arts in Eugene. And none of this would have been possible without Royce’s ability to marshal the necessary forces, find the essential support, and convince the Eugene audience to trust in the creative judgment of the Festival’s leadership.

Always give the audience a great experience.

Each year Royce assembled a group of exceptional musicians for the Festival. Musicians who are not only fine players; they are great communicators who present the music with honesty and humility. And the concerts were often fabulous artistic experiences. This sent a clear message to all of the arts in Eugene: our stages are the big leagues; our audiences and musicians expect the real thing. And Eugene’s performing groups have responded in kind. The exceptional quality of our Symphony is due in part to the high standards that Royce and Rilling set with the Bach Festival. There are so many other examples:

Arts education

Royce’s background as an educator, with the support of the University, made education a central component of the Festival’s mission. Think of the hundreds of young conductors who came to Eugene from more than 30 countries to participate in Rilling’s master classes. The thousands of young singers who have participated in the Youth Choral Academy. And the tens of thousands of audience members who attended the many educational activities of the Festival; the highlight of which for me was always the Discovery series, those wonderful lecture demonstrations that explore the choral music of Bach. What the Festival accomplishes in arts education in a few short weeks each summer is nothing short of amazing.

Helmuth Rilling

I have to mention just one more accomplishment of Royce’s that we sometimes overlook. One more bar that he raised ever so high for the rest of us. We at the Symphony rightly take pride in the conductors we’ve brought to Eugene. But let’s not forget, it was Royce who discovered Helmuth Rilling for us. Rilling was a not so very well-known German Kapellmeister when Royce saw his great gifts and brought him to Eugene in 1969. Today Rilling is internationally recognized as one of the world’s great choral conductors, with hundreds of recordings to his credit. Rilling’s artistic integrity, his scholarship, and his skills as a teacher and communicator have fit Eugene to a T. But Eugene would have never heard of Rilling, and Rilling would have never heard of us, if it wasn’t for Royce Saltzman. Add to all of this Royce’s distinguished service as a music educator at the University of Oregon and as an advocate for choral music world-wide. We can only thank our lucky stars that Royce made his career in Eugene. So Royce, on behalf of the Eugene Symphony Association, and with our gratitude for your remarkable contributions to the growth and advancement of the arts in Eugene, we are proud to present to you the Advocate for the Arts Award for the year 2009.
Roger Saydack is a music lover who has supported the arts in Eugene for more than 30 years. He was the 2008 receipient of the Eugene Symphony's Advocate for the Arts Award.