Forty years later, listeners keep coming back for Bach

Rena Lev-Bass

The Oregon Bach Festival is known for its world-class talent, famed conductors and its fusion of contemporary and classical concerts. This year marks the festival’s 40th anniversary, and with it comes a plethora of performances, interactive lectures, and of course, a celebration of the work of Johann Sebastian Bach.

This year’s program boasts artists such as Bobby McFerrin, Jessie Marquez and Pink Martini. The festival runs from June 23 to July 11, with Verdi’s “Requiem” kick-starting the lineup.

“The concerts that we have lined up are high points of history … they are a collection of great things that we’ve done our previous year and some new artists, too. The Requiem is very much the main event,” said George Evano, the festival’s director of communications.
“People who are used to this sort of thing, which we’ve done so well for so many years, will be totally delighted because it’s a concert they have come to expect.”

The Requiem is conducted by Helmuth Rilling, one of the world’s foremost interpreters of Bach, and is described as “a classic of its type. Great singing, huge voices, it has truly dramatic musical segments which tell a story.”

Though certain concerts will always have their seat in the festival’s schedule, other performances vary each year. Evano said there are many elements to consider when forming the program.

“We choose a mix of things that will have an appeal to popular audiences, as well as an appeal to certain types of classical music,” he said.

The attempt to appeal to popular and classical ears is most apparent when looking at the festival’s five-year experiment with young hip-hop artists. “Bach Remix” puts a new spin on the music of Bach by asking disc jockeys to create musical programs inspired by Bach, or to integrate Bach’s original music into their sets.

“It’s really a showcase, not a competition,” Evano said, who explained that when “Bach Remix” first premiered, it was a “DJ playoff, to see who could do the best with a Bach tune.”

The festival aims not only to entertain its audiences, but also to educate them. Afternoon lectures and discussions with artists are two of the ways the festival promotes musical education. The discovery series, which takes place during six afternoons in Beall Concert Hall, offers an explanation behind musical compositions.

“It’s a combination of a lecture with musical examples to illustrate key points of the music, followed by a short performance,” Evano said. “You learn about different parts of music from the best people and learn what to listen for, and then you actually hear the whole thing together.”

Another instructive component is “Bach in the Brain,” which discusses the biological and neurological effects music has on our bodies.

The Oregon Bach Festival runs from June 23 to July 11th, with concerts held at various locations in Eugene, many on the University campus. For more information visit the festival’s Web site at

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