Wow. What a festival this 2016 edition of the Oregon Bach Festival was! Playing OBF has always had its special moments over the years. Since playing my first OBF in the summer of 1996, I’ve seen so many fantastic singers and instrumentalists come through. Thomas Quasthoff, Yo-Yo Ma, Jeffrey Kahane, Nicholas Phan – the list goes on and on. The constant behind those big names? The truly world-class Berwick Chorus. Every year I go back thinking that last year’s chorus was the best there was and there would be no topping it, and every year I mentally eat crow. They keep getting better and better. It’s truly a testament to Kathy Saltzman Romey and her team (as well as the individual talents of the entire chorus) that the standard creeps higher and higher each year.
There were so many high points to this year’s festival that it’s hard to list them all, but I’ll do my best to recall the moments that struck me the most during my time there.
- James MacMillan conducts MacMillan – It was a rare honor to play under one of my favorite composers, the Scottsman James MacMillan, with the OBF Chamber Orchestra. In particular, his Sinfonia was a remarkable piece, and playing Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony Op. 110a was a profound experience.
- MacMillan Requiem – There are times when you have an experience where you know that you’ll be saying decades later “I was there”, and this was one of them. MacMillan’s A European Requiem is a bona fide masterpiece that should become a part of the repertoire immediately. The Berwick Chorus was so stunning in its intricate and difficult choral writing – breathtaking. Giving the world premiere in the presence of the composer was the highest of honors. [Review]
- Kahane Conducts Kahane – Father and son Jeffrey and Gabriel Kahane took the stage for this concert. Jeffrey led the OBF Chamber Orchestra from the keyboard in a beautifully crystalline performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Then he played a heartbreaking encore improvisation on America the Beautiful that left few eyes dry. It was the perfect commentary on a very difficult and tragic week in America – proof that music can express the inexpressible. Gabriel took center stage for the second half with his 50 minute Gabriel’s Guide to the 48 States, which celebrated the former diversity of regional America, warts and all, as written in 1930’s WPA travel guides. [Review]
- Brahms Requiem – A piece that I’ve done several times – it was nearly a perennial favorite of OBF founder Helmut Rilling – and it never fails to move me deeply. OBF music director Matthew Halls kept the piece moving, and the Berwick Chorus (along with the Stangland Family Youth Academy Choir and UofO Chamber Choir) sang it beautifully. Before intermission, the OBF Orchestra played Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 in an account that skipped much of the lugubriousness that can haunt this most beautiful and melancholic symphony. [Review]
So, another year is in the can, and several more festivals await me before my summer is done. This one will be hard to top, however.