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Bach Festival 40th anniversary concert

  • Jul 7, 2010
[caption id="attachment_2786" align="alignright" width="219" caption="Robert Levin, Nicholas McGegan, Ya-Fei Chuang"][/caption]To celebrate its 40th anniversary, the Oregon Bach Festival presented a generous evening of works for various combinations of vocal and instrumental soloists, chorus and orchestra, Saturday at the Hult Center. During the numerous changes of set-up (which staff had to execute with the efficiency of a NASA launch) the audience was treated to video segments about the history of the festival. The clips highlighted the festival's aim of combining of tradition, innovation, and variety of genres, with the goal of bringing people together, and Saturday's concert exemplified that wonderfully. The soloists were all audience favorites, perhaps no one more so than Thomas Quasthoff, whose powerful, resonant voice filled Silva Hall in an aria from J. S. Bach's "Christmas Oratorio." Artistic director Helmuth Rilling and the Festival Orchestra provided solid support. In second half of the concert, Quasthoff returned to the stage to share his love of the American songbook, delivering songs by George Gershwin and Jerome Kern, with Nicholas McGegan leading the orchestra. Revealing nary a trace of any accent and with a keen understanding of the style, Quasthoff put to rest any stereotypes about classical singers doing popular music. His deeply moving delivery of "Ol' Man River" was probably the emotional and dramatic high point of the evening; the standing ovation was immediate and heartfelt. Singer/improviser/body-rhythmist Bobby McFerrin and Quasthoff then had a great deal of fun improvising on a McFerrin signature tune, "Thinkin' About Your Body," and "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." Earlier, Ya-Fei Chuang and Robert Levin shared the stage to deliver an engaging account of Francis Poulenc's Concerto for Two Pianos. The work is an olio of sorts, with evocations of Mozart and Rachmaninoff, and most noticeably Balinese gamelan, especially effective as delivered by Chuang and Levin. Four outstanding wind players - - all OBF regulars - - brought lyricism to the Adagio from W. A. Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante, K. 297b. Nicholas McGegan, substituting for Jeffrey Kahane on short notice, conducted effectively in this work and the Poulenc. Rilling then returned to lead the chorus and orchestra in energetic readings of the "Sanctus" and "Osanna" from Bach's Mass in B-minor. At the start of the second half, Brahms's "Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen" from his "Deutsches Requiem" served as a background to a video memorial tribute to some of the artists, leaders and volunteers who helped nurture the festival. The Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy has been an essential part of the festival since 1998, and its conductor, Anton Armstrong is surely one of the most gifted conductor-educators in the country, as was evidenced by two songs delivered by the 85-voice choir. Bobby McFerrin then took charge of the group, leading them in an energized performance of his African-inspired "Circlesong." Ludwig van Beethoven's "Choral Fantasy," op. 90, in my view a second-rate work, concluded the three-hour concert. Robert Levin brought dynamism if not a lot of subtlety to the solo piano part, and Rilling's orchestra and all eight vocal soloists were in fine fettle. Terry McQuilkin, an adjunct instructor of composition at the University of Oregon, reviews classical music for the Register-Guard.