Oregon Bach Festival goes all out in gala concert
[caption id="attachment_2788" align="alignright" width="219" caption="Robert Levin, Nicholas McGegan, Ya-Fei Chuang"][/caption]From Oregon Music News
The Oregon Bach Festival cranked up the energy for its Gala concert, offering a cornucopia of music that involved choirs, instrumental ensembles, soloists, conductors, and a finely-tuned videos and slide shows that celebrated the Festival’s history. The concert, performed on Saturday, July 3rd, in the Silva Concert Hall of the Hult Center in Eugene, featured music that covered three hundred years from the Baroque era of J. S. Bach to an impressive new choral work by a college student plus two unaccompanied, improvised-on-the-spot numbers by Bobby McFerrin and Thomas Quasthoff. The concert also had an additional off-the-cuff flair, because Jeffrey Kahane became ill and had to cancel at the last moment, and his replacement, Nicholas McGegan, probably had very little time to rehearse any of the pieces.
The festive evening opened with artistic director and conductor, Helmuth Rilling, directing the Oregon Bach Festival Orchestra in the Overture from Bach’s Orchestra Suite No. 3. The orchestral strings showed off some very sleek playing as the ensemble dispatched that piece with élan. This was followed by a sparkling performance by Rilling and the orchestra of Grosser Herr, o starker König from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio with bass-baritone Quasthoff and trumpeter Guy Few as soloists.
Next came the Finale movement from Felix Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-flat Major. This piece featured eight members of the orchestra: violinists Elizabeth Baker, Jennifer Munday, Rahel Rilling, and Steve Scharf, violists Thomas Turner and Sara Rilling, and cellists Dávid Adorján and Dane Little. Their impeccable playing of this whirling piece was tempered only by the dull acoustic of the hall. If the ensemble had had time to move forward to the lip of the stage, that might have increased the dynamic range of the piece.
The husband-wife team of Ya-Fei Chuang and Robert Levin performed Francis Poulenc’s Concerto in D Minor for Two Pianos. Their agile playing (on two Fazioli grands) made the fast sections sound wonderfully pointillistic and scintillating which contrasted well with the dreamy mood that they established in the slower sections. It should be noted that the orchestra was led by McGegan, who did a fine job. McGegan also led the next piece, the Adagio from W. A. Mozart’s Sinfonia Conceretante in a reconstruction by Levin. The soloists for this piece, Lorna McGhee, flute, Allan Vogel, oboe, John Steinmetz, bassoon, and Richard Todd, horn, played with sensitivity, but the sound from the bassoon need to be louder (and that may have been due to where Steinmetz stood).
Wrapping up the first half of the program, the Oregon Bach Festival Chorus and Orchestra, under the direction of Rilling, performed the Sanctus and Osanna movements from Bach’s Mass in B Minor. Their sound was heavenly.
Interspersed with the music program throughout the evening were videos co-founders Rilling and Royce Saltzman, as well the current president and executive director John Evans and other people who have had a central role in the festival. Because these videos were short and to-the-point, they enhanced the celebratory feel of the evening. After intermission, an in memoriam slide show was accompanied by the chorus and orchestra in a touching and lovely performance of Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen from Johannes Brahm’s Ein deutsches Requiem.
This Brahms was followed by Strangeland Family Youth Choral Academy and conductor Anton Armstrong. They sang an exquisitely beautiful piece called Jesus Christ the Apple Tree by Stanford E. Scriven, who is a former student of the Choral Academy and is now studying at St. Olaf College. Next, the choir sang the uptempo Beautiful City by Thomas André. The vocal ensemble also got an impromptu workout from Bobby McFerrin to create a Circlesong with African-inspired sounds and rhythms.
Quasthoff took the stage to perform Gershwin’s They Can’t Take That Away From Me and did a whale of a job, using growls and an American inflection that would’ve made Frank Sinatra proud. Likewise, McGegan was a hit, in a piece that he surely hadn’t rehearsed, because before he started it at the piano, he turned to the audience with a gesture that said “Here goes nothin’.” But with Quasthoff’s terrific voice, this piece was a hit, and thunderous applause rang from all corners when they finished.
The next piece was Kern and Hammerstein’s Ol Man River, which McGegan started from the conductor’s podium – only he didn’t have any music on the conductor’s stand to work with – so he took a score from the principal cellist (which, of course, had only the cello part on it) and went ahead. But again, Quasthoff used his incredible vocal powers to summon something extra from this tune that everyone has heard a million times. By the time he got to the words “I’m tired of livin’ and scared of dyin’,” Quasthoff had everyone in the palm of his hand. He just lifted the entire audience out of its seat, and the standing ovation went on and on.
To top this off McFerrin and Quastoff did a couple of improve numbers that were delightfully funny and refreshing. They were followed by all of the choruses, the orchestra, and a number of soloists (including Quasthoff) plus Robert Levin and McGegan to perform Beethovan’s Choral Fantasy. The combined effort was impressive, but it might have been overload for the audience. Still the audience managed to get to its collective feet to reward the performers with an enthusiastic ovation, and the concert closed with bouquets that were tossed by those at the front of the stage to members of the youth choir. That was great!