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Back to Bach: Yo-Yo Ma opens this year's festival

  • Jun 24, 2011
From the Eugene Register-Guard Friday June 24 By Bob Keefer The Oregon Bach Festival opened Thursday night with a celebrity-fueled sellout crowd as nearly 2,500 music lovers packed the Hult Center’s Silva Hall to hear cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who was making his second concert appearance in Eugene in less than three years. Demand for seats was high. In the hour before the show, would-be concertgoers who hadn’t bought tickets on time haunted the box office, hoping for a miracle, and signed up for any cancellations. In the lobby, a well-dressed Ray Morse held up a hand-written sign: “Young cellist and dad need 1 or 2 tickets.” His sign worked. By showtime, he and his son, 17-year-old Churchill High School senior-to-be Jeremy Morse, had two tickets in hand, thanks to a patron who called a friend who wasn’t attending. “To get an opportunity like this is inspiring,” Jeremy said. The festival’s opening night kicked off with little fanfare. The Pacific International Children’s Choir concert that usually kicks off the festival in the lobby with voices from around the West didn’t work out this year (they’ll perform a free show in the Hult lobby at 1 p.m. Saturday instead) because of the unusual Thursday night opening, dictated by Ma’s tight schedule. After introductions by festival president and executive director John Evans and University of Oregon President Richard Lariviere, Jeffrey Kahane, a longtime favorite guest artist, sat down to the harpsichord and conducted the festival orchestra and chorus in a performance of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2. That chamber piece was a quiet, non-flashy beginning, but was followed by the more traditional choral fare of Bach’s Magnificat. After intermission, Ma completely owned the hall, captivating the audience with his cello and easy charm. Ma is one of the superstars of the classical music world. He played, for example, at President Obama’s inauguration in 2008, and is the kind of soloist whose sheer presence on the program helps keep orchestras operating in the black. But rather than familiar music by Haydn and Tchaikovsky, which is what he performed here in 2008 with the Eugene Symphony, Ma played a piece Thursday night by Osvaldo Golijov, a Grammy-winning contemporary composer from Argentina. Golijov has a special relationship with the Bach festival, which performed his “La Pasión según San Marcos” to open the festival here in 2005. The rousing work, which incorporates Latin dance rhythms within the stately form of a passion, was originally commissioned by Bach Festival founder Helmuth Rilling’s Bachakademie in Stuttgart, Germany, in 2000. The composer also has a special relationship with Ma. Golijov wrote Thursday’s performed piece for him on a commission from the Boston Symphony, and “Azul” got its world premiere performance by Ma at the Tanglewood Festival in 2006. The Bach Festival, now in its 42nd year, continues through July 10 with performances at the Hult Center and other venues in Eugene, as well as performances in Portland, Bend and Ashland. Read All