The baton is raised for the start of a new Oregon Bach Festival

Matthew Halls

The internationally recognized Oregon Bach Festival kicks off another summer concert series Thursday, June 29, with live music, Euphoria Chocolate and an instrument petting zoo.

The free opening celebration starts at 5:30 p.m. in newly constructed Berwick Hall, 975 E. 18th Ave., just south of the MarAbel B. Frohnmayer Music Building. And then the real fun begins.

Artistic Director Matthew Halls will open the 2017 festival with Bach’s sacred choral masterpiece, “St. Matthew Passion.” Called the “most exalted of music’s (spiritual) monuments” by the Los Angeles Times, the Passion is one of Bach’s most celebrated works and will feature international tenor star Charles Daniels as the evangelist.

What Grammophone calls Daniels’ “burning passion and utter conviction” also will be on display during “St. John Passion,” presented in three parts as the 2017 iteration of the audience-favorite Discovery Series.

The newly renamed (re)Discovery Series seeks to engage audiences through conversation and demonstration. Due to high demand, the (re)Discovery Series will move from its afternoon time slot to an evening performance schedule.

A major cornerstone of the 2017 festival is the 20th-anniversary celebration of the Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy. Director Anton Armstrong returns to lead 80 of the best high school singers in the country. As part of the celebration, current academy singers will be joined on stage by alumni from the past 20 years.

One of the festival’s newer educational endeavors, the Berwick Academy, returns for its third year of historically informed performance. The academy is one of the only U.S. festival-based education programs of its kind, and its students will be featured in concerts that highlight French and German Baroque music as well as John Blow’s cautionary tale, “Venus and Adonis.”

“We’re very pleased to highlight our educational offerings this year,” said festival Executive Director Janelle McCoy. “As our originating programmatic intent, education is at the heart of the Oregon Bach Festival.”

In addition to the Stangeland and Berwick academies, the festival will continue to offer high-level music education through the Organ Institute, Master Class in Conducting and Vocal Fellows.

The festival also welcomes back several favorites: organist Paul Jacobs, tenor Nicholas Phan, Grammy-nominated violinist and Portland Baroque Orchestra Artistic Director Monica Huggett, and the taiko drumming group On Ensemble.

The festival also will welcome conductor, harpsichordist and Concerto Copenhagen Artistic Director Lars Ulrik Mortensen. The 2000 Danish Musician of the Year, Mortensen will conduct the Berwick Academy as well as the epic Handel oratorio “Hercules.”

Rounding out the festival concert schedule are works from John Tavener and Herbert Howells and a July 1 performance of the satirical and family friendly “Beethoven’s Wig” from four-time Grammy nominee Richard Perlmutter. A free ice cream social and noontime concert follows in the Hult Center lobby.

The festival comes to an end with “a divine bit of Beethoven” as one of the composer’s supreme achievements, “Missa Solemnis,” closes this year’s festival.

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