40 years, one night: Evans details amazing July 3 Anniversary Concert

  • Jun 27, 2010
In planning the Oregon Bach Festival’s 40th anniversary, the question arose: how could we best commemorate the Festival’s achievements in one memorable concert? [caption id="attachment_671" align="alignleft" width="72" caption="John Evans"] [/caption] You’ll see the answer on the night of July 3 in the Anniversary Gala, when more than 200 musicians— including Helmuth Rilling, Jeffrey Kahane, Bobby McFerrin, Anton Armstrong, and Thomas Quasthoff—participate in a salute encompassing works by Bach, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Brahms, and Beethoven, bridged by video tributes to the people and ideas that forged the Festival’s history. OBF Executive Director and President John Evans worked with Helmuth Rilling to create the program. In his notes for the concert, Evans outlined his approach. We knew we would open with Bach, and it was Helmuth who chose the first movement of the third Orchestral Suite. Its timpani and trumpets provide a suitable fanfare with which to begin the evening. Then we wanted to immediately bring on Thomas Quasthoff. He made his American debut here fifteen years ago and has since become one of the leading baritones in the world, as both a lieder singer and a concert singer. Helmuth chose this aria from the Christmas Oratorio because it gives us the opportunity to feature one of our obbligato players as well: Guy Few on trumpet. I wanted to introduce some chamber music at this point, and the finale of the Mendelssohn Octet afforded us that opportunity. Mendelssohn is the musician who rediscovered Bach for his generation. The octet is a masterpiece and an iconic piece for string players, allowing us to hear the virtuosity of our string principals. One of the drawbacks to some gala concerts is that they get very bitty—lots of short pieces, and you never get the chance to really settle in. Presenting the Poulenc concerto gives us that change of pace. It’s a glorious piece with a fabulous finale written for the piano, which Poulenc so loved. And it’s a change of color, as we move from the Germany of Bach and Mendelssohn to a French composer influenced by Indonesia and by the gamelan music of Bali. Conductor Jeffrey Kahane has a long association with the Festival, as does Robert Levin; Bob and his duo partner, Ya-Fei Chuang, have performed here and at Helmuth’s festival in Stuttgart many times. Bob is not only a fine pianist. He’s a significant academic and editor, best known as a Mozart scholar. Among his most famous reconstructions is the Sinfonia Concertante, whose Adagio movement you hear immediately following the Poulenc. The choice of the Sinfonia also gives us an opportunity to spotlight four of our principal wind players: Lorna McGhee (flute), Allan Vogel (oboe), John Steinmetz (bassoon), and Rick Todd (horn). We wanted to end the first half by returning to Bach, and Helmuth chose the glorious Sanctus and Osanna from the Mass in B Minor, a work being performed in its entirety in our Discovery Series concerts this year. During the second half of the program we wanted to look further ahead, demonstrating the diversity of the Festival’s current programming. We begin with the fourth movement of Brahms’s German Requiem—“How lovely are thy dwelling places”—demonstrating Bach’s legacy while we reflect upon our own. Then, in a complete change of pace, we look to the future with three selections performed by the Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy. The SFYCA is, in a very real sense, the future of the Festival, as it helps to prepare and nourish the next-generation OBF chorus and even soloists. Bobby McFerrin, who leads the SFYCA in one of his “Circlesong” improvisations, is back for the third time as a Festival guest artist. McFerrin is followed by his friend, the versatile Thomas Quasthoff, back on stage to perform two show tunes—demonstrating the diversity of a festival that now embraces Broadway and jazz as well as Bach and Brahms. And Beethoven. We end with his Choral Fantasy, a portion of which foreshadows the “Ode to Joy” theme that the composer later developed fully in his Ninth Symphony. For this big piece we return as many artists as possible to the stage: the OBF chorus and soloists, the SFYCA chorus, Jeffrey Kahane at the piano, Helmuth Rilling at the podium. A gala ending for a gala evening—one we hope will be as memorable for brand-new audience members as for longtime Festival-goers.

—John Evans

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