Music with Meaning: Oregon Bach Festival Artists Express Personal Perspectives Through Performance

Bach in Motion will be performed on July 5.

Bach in Motion will be performed on July 5.

For nearly 50 years, Oregon Bach Festival has showcased the incomparable works of composer J. S. Bach, and those inspired by his timeless masterpieces. This mission continues in 2019, with a collection of creative and innovative artists who express their own unique experiences and personal perspectives through music. 

Bach in Motion (July 5) 

A year in the making, Bach in Motion (July 5) premieres as a transformational venture by OBF, DanceAbility International, and the University of Oregon Dance Department. DanceAbility International co-founder Alito Alessi is working with Oregon Bach Festival Executive Director Janelle McCoy and University of Oregon Dance Professor Shannon Mockli to combine music, movement, and awareness. Researcher, instrumentalist, and conductor Koji Otsuki heads the musical aspect of this project, paring down Bach’s massive list of works to those that fit the transcendent theme of this “Bach pastiche.” 

The audience will connect Bach’s aspirational sense of humanity to expressions of self-discovery and the equity of humanity beyond the perceived limitations of physical form. Joining the dancers will be soprano Julia Sophie Wagnermezzo-soprano Sarah Mesko, tenor Colin Ainsworth, bass-baritone Kenneth Overton, the OBF Orchestra, the University of Oregon Chamber Choir, and conductor Jane Glover

Artist Highlight: Kenneth Overton (July 5) 

Social justice has always been an important component of celebrated bass-baritone Kenneth Overton’s artistic career. He undertook a 10-city tour with the American Spiritual Ensemble, whose mission is to keep the American Negro Spiritual alive; and premiered Adolphus Hailstork’s Nobody Knows, which was written to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first Africans arriving on United States soil and forced into slavery. Overton also recently performed the lead role in  Lost in the Stars by Kurt Weill, which tackles police brutality and an unjust legal system, among other topics. 

More recently, he joined the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra along with a 100-plus choir that included the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and 37 members of the UCLA Chamber Singers, as well as five other superbly talented soloists to unveil the East Coast premiere of Richard Danielpour’s Passion of Yeshua, a score commissioned by the BPO in conjunction with the OBF and the Soli Deo Gloria Music Foundation. The work was also recorded during this April event, which not only explores the historical takes on the Passion of Jesus, but also the women’s roles in the storyline. The piece was a world premiere at the 2018 Oregon Bach Festival. 

Brooklyn Rider (July 2) 

Five new commissions from female composers that explore the subject of healing from a wide range of historical and cultural perspectives will premiere during Brooklyn Rider’s Healing Modes performance at OBF on July 2. The healing properties of music have been recognized from ancient Greek civilization to modern neuroscience and expressed in countless global traditions. The slow movement of Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 132 is among the most profound expressions of healing in the repertoire, which will also be presented during this performance. 

Vijay Gupta, MacArthur Fellow (July 9) 

MacArthur Fellow Vijay Gupta is another leading advocate for music as a form of healing. Gupta is the founder and Artistic Director of Street Symphony, a non-profit organization providing musical engagement and teaching artistry for homeless and incarcerated communities in Los Angeles. As a young violinist, Gupta began to give lessons to Nathaniel Ayers, a Juilliard-trained musician whose mental illness led to homelessness. This has led him on a path as a social justice advocate, providing musical enrichment and valuable human connection to the homeless, incarcerated, and other under-resourced communities in Los Angeles. Gupta visits OBF on July 9 for a thought-provoking presentation about his inspirational musical mission. 

Darrell Grant: The Territory (July 12) 

While Vijay inspires and advocates for those in Los Angeles, pianist Darrell Grant is a beacon for Oregon. Darrell has cultivated a large following with his musical talent for over two decades. He inspires many through his service to his community as an educator and leader in the arts. 

Among his current projects is  The Territory, which is a musical exploration of Oregon’s geographical and cultural history, from the floods and eruptions that formed its unique landscape, to the experiences of native peoples, settlers and immigrants who have called Oregon home. The audience at the 2019 Oregon Bach Festival will experience this work as Grant and his jazz ensemble perform on July 12

Royce Saltzman, OBF Founding Executive Director’s Poignant Reflection 

OBF Founding Executive Director Royce Salzman says music can be one of the best ways to bring people together. In 1995, Salzman commemorated the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II by inviting choirs from two former Axis countries, Japan and East Germany, to visit Oregon and join OBF’s choir for a performance of Britten’s War Requiem

“It was major in terms of production. Not everyone spoke the same language,” Royce says.

“But after the performance, there were tears and it was a real bonding experience. I think it was a major landmark in the festival’s history.”

Royce also helped other countries to visit and perform at Oregon Bach Festival, including choirs from Cuba, Germany, Finland, Israel, Latvia, South Korea, Sweden, Taiwan, Uganda, and Venezuela. As former president of the International Federation for Choral Music, his experiences abroad influenced his desire to bring an international element to Eugene and the Oregon Bach Festival. 

“The festival emphasis is choral music, and singing is, you might say, an international language. It builds a bridge across differences in politics, religion, language, and culture,” Royce says. “When you sing, you are part of a global family.”