Firing of Oregon Bach Festival director is still a mystery

Oregon Bach Festival Artistic Director Matthew Halls was fired last month, and the reason is still unclear. (Courtesy of Around the O)

Last month, University of Oregon fired Oregon Bach Festival Artistic Director Matthew Halls. The firing was a shock because in June the university gave Halls a long-term contract that included the promise of a six-figure paycheck. But the reason UO fired Halls is still unclear.

UO also agreed to pay Halls $90,000 in a settlement that included a “non-disparagement clause,” meaning that neither Halls nor the university would release any negative statements about either party.

The Oregon Bach Festival is one of the university’s biggest events, with a great deal of publicity surrounding it every year and thousands coming to Eugene to attend. It’s funded by grants, donations and ticket sales.

But with the recent firing of Halls, the question remains of whether it will add to OBF’s problems of declining attendance.

Founded in 1970 by German organist and conductor Helmuth Rilling, the once informal concert and series of workshops has since transformed into a two-week event that has featured many notable artists.

In 2011, Halls was named the festival’s ‘artistic director designate,’ and in 2013, he replaced Rilling as the artistic director.

In a press release on Aug. 27, OBF acknowledged the parting with Halls and said that program directors are “moving forward in an exciting direction that will bring new voices, points of views and artists with more diverse backgrounds to festival audiences” using multiple curators instead of a solitary individual.

The press release also stated that the change comes as part of a currently ongoing process to bring together the OBF and university communities and also align with the university’s goals.

UO also issued a statement about the firing: “The university is disappointed and saddened that Matthew Halls’ relationship with the Oregon Bach Festival (OBF) has drawn to a close. We are thrilled with the successful series of performances orchestrated by Mr. Halls and by his creative conducting. Nevertheless, it is not uncommon for there to be differences among the parties involved in such festivals.”

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