Inspired by Johann Sebastian Bach’s move to Leipzig 300 years ago, the 2023 Oregon Bach Festival invites audiences to awaken the Musical Wanderlust inside us all. The international, Grammy-winning festival features more than three dozen concerts, lectures, social activities and free community events June 30-July 16.
“OBF is truly an amazing international event,” says OBF director of programming and administration, James Boyd. “The best musicians and most enthusiastic, dedicated patrons from all over the world hop on a flight and spend time in Eugene each summer, enjoying not only the amazing programming that we have assembled, but also the city, the state, and everything the Pacific Northwest has to offer.”
The 18-day-long festival begins June 30 at 6 p.m. The opening celebration features live music, treats and OBF “swag” giveaways. At 7 p.m., the festival honors the land on which the University of Oregon sits. Kalapuya tribal elder Jan Michael “Looking Wolf” Reibach will play native flute and perform a land blessing. The OBF opening celebration is free and open to the public – no ticket needed.
Following the celebration, Jos van Veldhoven leads Bach’s joyous and transformative “Magnificat” in front of an already sold-out crowd. The July 6 performance of Vivaldi’s "The Four Seasons" is also sold out.
The Musical Wanderlust expedition continues July 2 with a pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago, as Grammy-winner Craig Hella Johnson and the OBF Chorus present Jody Talbot’s "Path of Miracles." On July 7, the iconic Emerson String Quartet, long heralded as one of the world’s outstanding chamber music groups, chooses the festival as a stop on their farewell tour.
Festival patrons will have the unique opportunity to hear significant work from Classical-era composer Joseph Bologne, currently in cultural headlines as the subject of the feature film, “Chevalier.” Well-known and respected in his time, Bologne has been marginalized by historians and his works largely excluded from the traditional classical music canon. “Acknowledgement of Bologne’s achievements is sorely overdue,” said Holly Roberts, OBF associate director of performance practice and instrumental programs. Bologne’s Symphony No. 2 is featured during the Mozart: Paris Symphony concert on July 8.
On July 9, the festival celebrates the 25th anniversaries of two of its most important achievements – the Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy and Krzysztof Penderecki’s Credo. The Credo, commissioned by the festival in 1998, went on to win a Grammy Award for OBF. The academy, led by Anton Armstrong, has been a nationwide flagship youth choral training program since its inception. The “Silver Celebrations” concert features five choruses and the “energetic charm” (Le Monde) of conductor Anna Sułkowska-Migoń.
"An Alpine Symphony," July 13 at the Hult Center, displays an enormous force of sound with more than 100 musicians. Led by Eric Jacobsen, the symphony is a high-altitude journey through the dramatic terrain of Europe’s grand mountain range. Twenty-two movements depict an 11-hour trek with rocky summits, waterfalls, a hunting party, a violent storm and a triumphal return. Composer Richard Strauss employs several unique instruments during the symphony, including thunder sheets, sheep bells, and the heckelphone. Described as a hybrid between an oboe and bassoon by professor Steve Vacchi of the UO School of Music and Dance, the heckelphone is extremely rare. Fewer than 120 are believed to be in circulation today.
Several concerts bridge the divide between classical and contemporary. OBF collaborates with Eugene Emeralds Baseball for Big Brass and Boom at PK Park July 3, featuring The Rodney Marsalis Philadelphia Big Brass. The concert is followed by fireworks. The Brubeck Brothers Quartet brings jazz, funk and blues to Eugene July 8. Grammy-winning Time For Three will meet audiences at the intersection of Americana, modern pop and classical with arrangements from Bach, the Beatles, Leonard Cohen, Maroon 5, Britney Spears, traditional hymns and more July 15.
The Musical Wanderlust journey concludes July 16 with “terrifically gifted” (South Florida Classical Review) New Zealand conductor Gemma New and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ epic "A Sea Symphony."
Boyd is bullish on the OBF’s musical thrills, pointing out that festival artists boast a combined 30 Grammy nominations and 14 wins among them. “It's the world’s best talent,” he said.
“Angela Hewitt and Jos van Veldhoven are Bach legends. Anthony McGill was one of the musical luminaries chosen to play at the Obama inauguration. And Paul Jacobs is called ‘the rockstar organist’ by our patrons. Every single event has a must-see performer.”
OBF events take place at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts, historic Beall Concert Hall on the University of Oregon campus and local churches. Tickets and more information are available at OregonBachFestival.org.
—OBF Photo: Athena Delene