OBF anniversary reaches record heights

  • Jul 14, 2010
[caption id="attachment_2692" align="alignright" width="220" caption="Helmuth Rilling congratulates soloist James Taylor at the conclusion of Elijah"][/caption]After a three-week revelry of concerts and events, the Oregon Bach Festival capped its 40th anniversary celebrations with a box office record. Finishing its concert schedule with the high drama of Mendelssohn’s masterwork Elijah, the University of Oregon program announced its highest-ever ticket sales of nearly $520,000, an increase of 18% from last summer and eclipsing its previous high, from the Olympic Trials year of 2008, by 3%. A total audience of more than 41,000 included ticket buyers from 32 states and five countries in Asia, Europe, and North America. Artistic Director Helmuth Rilling presided over a 50-event schedule in Portland, Bend, and Eugene that presented 300-plus artists and participants from Russia, Hong Kong, Europe, Israel, Cuba, Canada and virtually every U.S. state. The record sales mark and diversity of a program that included Bach, Leonard Bernstein, Cuban dance music, and choral masterworks fulfilled the Festival’s aim in honoring its past and celebrating its future, said John Evans, executive director and president. “Our goal was to create a Festival as ambitious as possible,” said Evans, “We wanted to celebrate, in every way—from education, to performance, to innovation—what we’ve stood for in our first 40 years. I’m delighted to have exceeded sales beyond expectations. I think it proves that if you are ambitious in programming classical music, the community will come along with you.” Luminaries from the Festival history—including bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff, piano duo Ya-Fei Chuang and Robert Levin, and period instrument specialists Monica Huggett and the Portland Baroque Orchestra—were featured extensively. Jamie Bernstein, Miami-based timba band Tiempo Libre, and the party orchestra Pink Martini attracted big crowds in their Festival debuts. A last-minute cancellation by pianist-conductor Jeffrey Kahane provided unexpected but savory opportunities for artists to shine. Nicholas McGegan, who made his OBF debut in 2008, arrived on 24 hours notice to perform in a gala anniversary concert, conducting the orchestra in Poulenc and Mozart, and accompanying Quasthoff for show-stopping show tunes. Pianist Shai Wosner earned raves for replacing Kahane in back-to-back recital programs. Another substitution, soprano Tamara Wilson, had a full week to prepare as soloist for two performances of the Verdi Requiem, delivering what critic James Bash of the Oregon Music News called “a jaw-dropping performance,” singing with “an electrifying quality that most singers can only dream of” in her first-time performance of the role. Ambitious new projects included production of a filmed documentary of Artistic Director Helmuth Rilling’s lecture-concerts of Bach’s B Minor Mass; a gala anniversary concert that integrated video tributes with musical numbers involving 200 performers and 10 stage changes; and a sold-out performance by vocalist Bobby McFerrin and the Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy, in which 85 high school singers successfully tackled the complex choral compositions of McFerrin’s new CD, VOCAbuLaries. In Rilling’s assessment, riveting performances of major works by Verdi and Mendelssohn were pillars of the Festival’s success. “We had many fine performances with the soloists, and chorus and orchestra,” said the conductor, the Festival’s cofounder. “Particularly Elijah with Thomas Quasthoff, in Portland and also in Eugene. This was music making at the very highest level.” Organizational milestones were achieved as well. Just days before the first concert Evans announced the Festival had reached and surpassed its $10 million endowment. A new, major gift from donors Andy and Phyzz Berwick initiated underwriting of the Berwick Chorus of the Oregon Bach Festival. Within the community, the Festival leveraged grant funds from the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation and Oregon Arts Commission to attract hundreds of first-time attenders. Serving audiences in print as well as on stage, the Festival published an English translation of Sara Rilling’s 2008 memoir, Helmuth Rilling, My Father. Festival dates for 2011 are June 23-July 10, with a program and schedule to be announced in the fall.