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UO puts Bach Fest back under control of School of Music and Dance

A month after the controversial firing of Oregon Bach Festival artistic director Matthew Halls, the University of Oregon is giving control of the troubled festival back to its School of Music and Dance, whose dean says he will name a local "artistic advisory group" to pull together next summer's festival.

"That's the No. 1 goal, to get it up and running," Brad Foley, the music school dean, said in an interview late today, Sept. 27, after the surprise annnouncement of the administrative shift was made in a news release from the UO. "I hope to get it sorted out by the end of October."

Once the 2018 festival is set, Foley said, longer-term planning can begin about how the five-decade-old festival might look in the future.

Foley said he plans to name an advisory group of seven, with two representatives each from OBF staff and board, two from UO faculty and one person from the larger community.

The music school ran OBF from its founding in 1970 until 2002, he said. It was most recently managed by the university's provost, Jayanth Banavar,, who signed off on the still-unexplained termination on Aug. 24 of Halls, a popular and well respected musician.

The release quoted Brad Stangeland, president of the festival's advisory board of trustees, as approving the plan. “Members of the Friends of the Oregon Bach Festival board are very supportive of this move,” he said in the release. “We view it as an important step to examine festival operations and ensure a bright and sustainable future. Collectively, the board is impressed by the commitment of university leadership to perpetuate the artistry that we — as audiences, musicians and donors — have long cherished.”

Neither Stangeland nor the Bach board was consulted before Halls was let go on Aug. 24, Stangeland said at the time.

Absent from much of the public discussion on Wednesday was OBF executive director Janelle McCoy, who is believed to have recommended Halls' firing. She was not quoted in the release. Foley said she will work under his direction to administer the 2018 festival.

The release says neither the UO nor OBF intends to revisit Halls' firing, which caused shock and widespread scorn in the classical music community here and abroad. Halls, an Oxford-educated Brit, has been a popular replacement for founding artistic director Helmuth Rilling, who retired from OBF in 2013.

Since the firing, the UO has clamped down hard on information about Halls' departure, and it remains publicly unexplained. Halls and the UO signed an agreement that gave him $90,000 and in which both he and UO officials agreed not to disparage each other.