Oregon Bach Festival is ready to soar with ‘Ascending Voices’

The internationally recognized Oregon Bach Festival kicks off its 54th season June 28 with a theme of “Ascending Voices,” which invites audiences to explore the universal experiences of grief, healing, acceptance and joy.

The annual event, a collaboration with the University of Oregon’s School of Music and Dance, runs through July 14 at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Eugene and Beall Hall at the UO, in addition to local churches. Information about performances and schedules is available on the festival website.

This year marks the beginning of the transition to Jos van Veldhoven and Craig Hella Johnson as the festival’s new artistic partners. Van Veldhoven is a Dutch conductor and longtime artistic director of the Netherlands Bach Society, and Johnson is a celebrated choral conductor and past conductor of the Victoria Bach Festival.

The pair were announced as the festival’s artistic partners in January.

“It is no secret that Oregon Bach Festival’s world-class performances and top-tier training programs have contributed to the music world while strengthening the university’s cultural status around the globe for more than 50 years,” said UO President Karl Scholz when the appointment was announced. “The visions shared by these new artistic partners continue the legacy of making UO a truly distinct place for music and music education in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.”

Following his sold-out performance in 2023, Grammy-winner Johnson returns this year with Sarah Kirkland Snider’s “Mass for the Endangered,” described as a prayer for voiceless animals and the imperiled environments they live in. Van Veldhoven follows his 2023 OBF debut with a turn at Mozart’s unfinished “Great” Mass.

While the festival highlights classical works by many composers from many eras, its central pillar remains the music of Bach. Orchestras, ensembles and choruses will perform 20 Bach works over 17 days, including the opening night performance of the “Bach: Ascension Oratorio” cantata conducted by John Butt, a highly regarded conductor, Bach scholar and recording artist.

The work, which hasn’t been performed at the festival in 10 years, also will be performed at the Mount Angel Abbey on June 29.

On July 2, Butt joins forces with the lauded OBF Berwick Academy Orchestra for a new spin on the festival’s Discovery concert. The Berwick Academy also offers an afternoon of chamber music led by Catherine Manson, first violinist of the London Haydn Quartet, on July 8 and a classical era program led by Portland Baroque Orchestra artistic director Julian Perkins on July 10.

Paul Jacobs returns to Oregon Bach Festival to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Oregon Bach Festival Organ Institute. The centerpiece of the anniversary celebration is the co-commission and West Coast premiere of a new organ concerto from Lowell Liebermann on July 11 in Silva Concert Hall.

Composer and conductor Eric Whitacre serves as an artist in residence this year. The grammy-winning musician presents this year’s Hinkle distinguished lecture and a community sing July 6 and conducts the OBF Chorus in a performance of his work “The Sacred Veil” on July 12. 

The festival continues its tradition of Saturday crossover events at the Hult Center. On June 29, Portland Cello Project brings its signature mix of classic and modern sound to an evening of Bach, Led Zepplin and Taylor Swift.

OBF ends the “Ascending Voices” season when Ken-David Masur conducts Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

In addition to traditional choral-orchestral masterworks, the festival also presents acclaimed guest artists and offers educational opportunities, free performances, family programming and community events. A complete schedule and ticket information are available on the OBF website.

Top photo: New Zealand conductor Gemma New leads a performance of 'A Sea Season' at the 2023 Oregon Bach Festival.