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Curtain rises with Rilling, Bell, sellout

  • Jul 4, 2012
From the Register-Guard June 30, 2012 The Oregon Bach Festival kicked off its annual 2 1/2-week run here and around the state Friday night with a violin superstar, an evening of Felix Mendelssohn and a sold-out house at the Hult Center. With festival founder Helmuth Rilling on the podium, violinist Joshua Bell charmed listeners in the Hult’s 2,500-seat Silva Concert Hall as he played his rendition of Mendelssohn’s violin concerto, featuring a violin cadenza that Bell wrote himself in place of the 19th century composer’s. With neither musician using a score, Rilling conducted and Bell played the concerto passionately and authoritatively, launching into a virtuosic performance of his original cadenza in which he coaxed a vast range of voices from the single instrument. Bell, who last appeared here in a 2007 concert with the Eugene Symphony, stood alone and smiled onstage during one standing ovation after another after his performance. The concert opened with the orchestra playing the composer’s fourth symphony, the “Italian,” and ended with the festival orchestra and chorus performing Mendelssohn’s “The First Walpurgis Night.” The 42-year-old festival, which celebrates the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and his successors, is at a critical junction as it continues the deliberate process of replacing its founding leader­ship. One of the big changes that is already under way is a shift from Rilling’s big, romantic interpretation of Bach’s choral works to a more stripped-down and historically authentic approach heralded by his appointed successor. Rilling announced last year that he will put down his baton as OBF artistic director at the end of the 2013 summer festival. The German choral conductor came here in 1970 to put on a small music festival with University of Oregon music professor Royce Saltzman, who became the festival’s executive director. Since then, the festival has grown in size and significance. In 1985, celebrating Bach’s 300th birthday, the festival traveled to Los Angeles to perform in the Hollywood Bowl; its 2001 recording of Krzyztof Penderecki’s “Credo,” a work it commissioned, won a Grammy Award for best classical recording. Saltzman retired in 2006, turning over his post to former BBC producer John Evans. Rilling’s replacement as artistic director after next year’s festival will be Matthew Halls, a British-born and Oxford-educated keyboardist who champions historically accurate performance. Halls arrived in Eugene earlier this week for the festival, where he is conducting or performing two works himself. Halls will conduct the OBF orchestra and chorus at a performance of Michael Tippett’s oratorio “A Child of Our Time” on Friday in Portland and July 7 at the Hult Center; he also will perform at the keyboard July 9 at the UO’s Beall Concert Hall in a program of Bach harpsichord concerti.