The Oregon Bach Festival began as a small conducting workshop at the University of Oregon, and has grown into one of America's premier classical music festivals, featuring major concerts with musicians from Germany, Los Angeles and elsewhere, in the 2,430-seat Silva Concert Hall at Eugene's Hult Center. It has included commissions and premieres of major works by composers such as Arvo Pärt, Osvaldo Golijov and Tan Dun; and performances by touring ensembles and stars like Yo-Yo Ma and Thomas Quasthoff. Last year's 17-day extravaganza boasted 51 events in Eugene. But until the ascension of John Evans in 2008, the festival shunned Portland, save for three unsatisfactory concerts in the acoustically challenged Keller Auditorium between 1977 and 1979.
"It struck me when I arrived here that it was called Oregon Bach Festival, yet it was confined to Eugene," recalls Evans, who had spent many years as a radio producer at the BBC before taking over as OBF's executive director. "Since Portland is the cultural heart of the state, I felt we needed a presence there," he says, noting that a high proportion of UO's alumni live in the Portland area.
The opening concert in Evans' first fest in 2008 took place at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, and the past two summers also offered two Portland OBF concerts. This summer inaugurates a new Portland mini-festival, with concerts at the Schnitz, First Methodist Church and Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. The festival now has an office in the White Stag Building, and Evans has downtown Portland condo. He intends to offer a half dozen or so Portland concerts each summer, and hopes to expand to other venues around the city. With performances here, in Bend and Ashland, and on the coast, the Oregon Bach Festival is at last living up to its name.
HEAR IT: OBF's Portland concerts include Portland Baroque Orchestra in music from Henry Purcell's Baroque opera Dido and Aeneas and works by Benjamin Britten on June 27; Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy singing music by Morten Lauridsen and Joan Szymko, plus Leonard Bernstein's sublime Chichester Psalms on June 30; Schola Cantorum de Venezuela singing music of Latin American composers July 6; organist David Higgs playing a J.S. Bach recital July 7; and a performance of Handel's Ode on St. Cecilia's Day and Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 featuring the Venezuelans, OBF orchestra and top soloists. Tickets $15-$145 at oregonbachfestival.com.