For nearly four decades the Oregon Bach Festival has delighted audiences by producing musical performances celebrating the work of classical composer Johann Sebastian Bach.

While the festival’s repertoire has boasted many internationally known artists such as Sylvia McNair, Ben Heppner and Bobby McFerrin, a primary focus of the event is found in musical education.

Although the festival was created to commemorate Bach and his influence over the generations of composers since his time, four other notable classical composers steal the limelight this year.

“Four composers whose work is very closely related to our mission have major milestone anniversaries,” Bach Festival spokesperson George Evano said. “We are all about tradition, and then taking the tradition into the future.”

With anniversaries of births and deaths of Joseph Haydn, Felix Mendelssohn, G.F. Handel and Henry Purcell, the Bach festival celebrates the works by these men in new, innovative ways to try to draw the crowds of all ages.

The festival kicked off with “The Creation,” honoring the life of Haydn, in both Eugene and Portland.

To honor Purcell, the festival teamed with the Portland Baroque Orchestra, which has what is called a historically informed approach to music. Played on exact or replica instruments of the time period that the music was written, Evano described the performance as “an exquisite art-music experience. It’s almost the purest approach (to music).”

The highlight of the festival is the performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which brings together Mendelssohn’s work played by the festival orchestra, the Eugene Ballet Company acting the scenes and Oregon Shakespeare Festival actors narrating.

“Mendelssohn, as his student, rediscovered Bach’s music and kind of took it as his personal mission to revive it,” Evano said. “He’s a special composer to us and to the
history of Bach.” The event will take place at Silva Concert Hall on July 5.

Another unique tribute to Mendelssohn is a performance entitled “At Home with the Mendelssohns.” This performance recreates life for Mendelssohn, who grew up as an accomplished composer by 17. “We’re always trying to find new ways and formats to present this great music,” Evano said. “It’s another way to honor Mendelssohn is to have this kind of cultural phenomenon.”

The final concert is Handel’s “Messiah,” which puts a new spin on the well-known classic. This performance, mixing choir and orchestra, will use the same text from the original work, yet offers a modern flair with new music written by Sven-David Sandstrom. Evano described Sandstrom’s task as equivalent to rewriting “Yesterday” by the Beatles — it would be so ingrained, where would you even start? “It’s truly a creative
process,” he said.

“There’s something special about words and music put together that brings new
meaning to both,” Evano said.

This summer the Bach Festival will welcome more than two dozen artists to Eugene’s Hult Center. One of the highlights is Savion Glover, a young tap dancer who will perform alongside the harmonies of Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and other classical marvels. Glover, best known for sharing the screen with the creatures of “Sesame Street” and choreographing dance moves for the penguins of “Happy Feet,” will undoubtedly be a family favorite.


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