Last night marked the end of this year’s Oregon Bach Festival for me, with a remarkable performance of Michael Tippett’s oratorio A Child of Our Time, under the direction of the OBF’s artistic director designate Matthew Halls. The Tippett was completely unknown to me before these rehearsals and performances, and I’m not sure why it doesn’t get performed more often. It is a very difficult sing for the choir – I heard many members talking during rehearsal breaks about the difficulties of the counting and awkward intervals that the choruses present. It was presented as a counterpoint to the other major work being done at OBF this year, the St. Matthew Passion of J.S. Bach. Indeed, Tippett’s work is based upon the form of Bach’s great work. Also interesting is Tippett’s use of traditional spirituals which are interspersed throughout the work.
This was my first opportunity to work under Matthew Halls. I admit that I am very much a fan. He is a very impressive musician who is able to work effectively with both the orchestra and chorus, and is a worthy successor to OBF founder Helmuth Rilling, who steps down to become emeritus artistic director after the 2013 edition of the festival. Halls also earned my respect by conducting this very complex and thorny score without the use of his score, which led to a fully immersed performance that was most inspiring. The Oregon Bach Festival will be in good hands for years to come with the able leadership of Maestro Halls. Undoubtedly, there will be many changes once the regime change is accomplished, and it will be interesting to see in which direction(s) the festival goes once Halls is officially ensconced. I would bet on an even larger role for the Portland Baroque Orchestra, and more British musicians appearing in principal roles in the core orchestra. We’ll see. UPDATE: My suspicions were somewhat confirmed by reading between the lines in this Oregon Arts Watch piece by Brett Campbell.