Eugene Weekly : Oregon Bach Festival 2008



Shanghai to Vienna World chamber music anchors mid-Fest days and nights 

Soloist Bios

Traditionally Elegant Sarah Chang mixes it up with Vivaldi

Breathing Under Music New OBF exec John Evans speaks 

OBF’08 Oregon Bach Festival sked & highlights!


Breathing Under Music
New OBF exec John Evans speaks 
By Suzi Steffen 

John Evans brought a wall of CDs. 

Or maybe it’s an entire house.

But the 3,500 albums he shipped from London to Eugene represent a mere fraction of the music he amassed over the 21 years he spent at the British Broadcasting Corporation, the last six as head of music for the BBC’s Radio 3. Who better to fill the large shoes of OBF’s generous, hardworking, passionate and visionary founding director, Royce Saltzman? Let Evans tell you why he might be “just the man.”

What did you know about Eugene before you got here?

Well, on business, I had been to L.A. and San Francisco, but that was the only part of the West Coast I had ever visited. So I had to look at my map to find Eugene! I thought, “That’s where they filmed Animal House.”

Henry Fogel, president and CEO of the League of American Orchestras, told me he threw your name in the OBF ring.

I started doing projects in America in the 1980s, and I always said I would love to work in the States. I’d have jumped ship from the BBC like that if the opportunity arose, but then I was offered the job as the head of music. So when I left the BBC [in the spring of 2006], I thought I might get the chance to do some consultancy work. I met with Leonard Slatkin [music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C.] and Peter Gelb [general manager of the Metropolitan Opera]; I met with headhunters in New York and Washington. 

But while I was there, an old protegé of mine said, “You need to meet Henry Fogel.” Oddly, I’d never met him though we did figure out we once sat near each other at the same concert. We went to lunch, and we talked broadcasting and music. We had a wonderful talk, but I went home thinking I would get a job offer possibly from the headhunters. Then Fogel was visiting Eugene, and someone on the search committee asked him for recommendations [for someone to replace Royce Saltzman as executive director], and he said, “I know just the man.”

So what on earth induced you to move from London to Eugene?

This is a festival started 39 years ago by two men with vision, with music education at its heart from the outset and with one composer at its heart. When I was in my first job out of university, it was the same, at the Britten-Pears [Foundation and School for Advanced Musical Studies] — founded by two men with a vision, Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, with a school and master classes. 

Like [the Britten-Pears Foundation], this festival works at the highest level and is truly an international organization with education at its heart. It’s borne of the vision of two remarkable men who want to sustain its success.

This is also closer to the music. [Artistic Director] Helmuth Rilling has his vision, the main concerts and the Discovery Series, but other parts need to be coordinated, for instance, the chamber music. Out of 55 events, Helmuth is directly responsible for 12 to 15 of them, and then it comes down to the executive director and others to make it work.

What was it like to watch the festival in 2007?

I got here on the 16th of June last year, the week before things got feverish. I went to every concert and event; I was in and out of rehearsals, production meetings and staff meetings. It was somewhat surreal because I’d been in the middle of the music business half my life, so for once I was getting to observe others running around like headless chickens. It was useful to see.

How are you getting along with Rilling?

One of the great things is that we have a good working relationship. It wouldn’t work otherwise. We have mutual respect; we talk about music on the same level. We don’t agree about absolutely everything, but when we talk about repertoire, interpretation or artists, we both know what we’re talking about. 

What has surprised you or been challenging?

Interesting. If I’d moved from the BBC to run the New York Philharmonic, for instance, it would be a different kettle of fish. That’s entirely independent, but the festival is under a state structure as is the BBC, which has a royal charter issued by the government. So some of the “state issues” are not so far removed in terms of compliance, management and regulations one has to live by. This university is extremely well-managed, and the culture comes down from Dave [Frohnmayer]. They want us to run efficiently and effectively.

What does that mean for the Bach Festival?

It means running on budget. The festival has been underfunded, and the UO would give us a cushion of a sort or bail it out on the back end. But the bottom line has to be right.

Is going to Portland part of a quest for donors?

I came to run the Oregon Bach Fest-ival, not the Eugene Bach Festival. For some reason, the festival has gotten too comfortably established in Eugene. I think it’s really international but should at least have presence throughout the state, and I think it’s vitally important to create a presence in Portland, a vibrant, great city with a  creative buzz and a lot of good thought going into development. Portland people need to know about the OBF and feel ownership over it.

What are you excited about this year?

The opening of the B Minor Mass in Portland, the first time the festival has been in Portland in 26 years. When Helmuth Rilling raises his baton, I will get a thrill up the back of my neck. And Garrison Keillor strutting his stuff on stage and doing special stuff for the OBF that’s unique to us. The Bowerman gala, because a festival like this has only been sustainable because of the generosity of supporters. Bill and Barbara put a lot of money into this and brought a lot of supporters and colleagues to support us. And the Shanghai Quartet, whose residency was my idea.

What would you tell people who are wondering about how to experience their first orchestral concert, what to wear, etc.?

I think it’s an interactive experience. Listening to a live concert, my experience is I feel physically engaged. It affects breathing and pulse rate, and when you experience how exciting it is, it’s almost impossible to describe. I don’t care what they wear as long as they come. What I want them to experience is live music. It’s hard to sit still when you’re engaged in the music so much — if you could visit my body during a concert, you’d know I need to remember to breathe.