Bach the House

Some highlights from the musical cornucopia that is the Oregon Bach Festival

Rachel Podger
Rachel Podger

This summer, Oregon Bach Festival’s theme could have been “Generations.” The fest features a father-and-son team — Jeffrey and Gabriel Kahane; leaders of two generations of historically informed Baroque violin — Monica Huggett and Rachel Podger; old and new music — from Baroque and early Romantic masters to contemporary composers; veteran visitors conductor Anton Armstrong, pianist Robert Levin and organist Paul Jacobs; as well as today’s rising stars — the terrific singer Nicholas Phan and Artistic Director Matthew Halls; and tomorrow’s musical leaders — Youth Choral Academy, Berwick Academy and more.

To open this summer series, OBF just added a free opening celebration with performances by the Oregon Brass Society, Cullen Vance and the PICFest Choir, as well as a talk with OBF’s Halls, 5 to 7:30 pm Thursday, June 23, in and around the Hult Center. Look for food trucks, a photo booth and complimentary champagne.

Oregon Bach Festival runs June 23-July 10, and there’s so much to hear and see. To help you decide, here are EW’s highlights:

Contemporary Compositions

After years of looking mostly backward, OBF resumes its investment in music’s future by commissioning the great Scottish composer James MacMillan to write this year’s must-see: a major new European Requiem premiering July 3. Contemporary music fans should also check out MacMillan’s June 28 chamber orchestra concert featuring some of his earlier compositions plus music by Britten, Shostakovich, Gabriel Kahane’s “Guide to the 48 States” July 8, and the Oregon Composers Forum’s five-concert “New Pathways” series, featuring emerging Oregon composers, new music star performers Molly Barth (flute), former Kronos Quartet cellist Jeffrey Zeigler, Roomful of Teeth singer Esteli Gomez and more. There’s even a 20th-century tango show June 26 at Beall Hall.

Fab Fiddlers

Portland Baroque Orchestra music director Monica Huggett — one of the pioneers of the historically informed performance movement that OBF has come to embrace — remains an electrifying, visceral violinist whose bands move onstage like pop stars. Hugget’s June 30 concert features Baroque tunes by Telemann, Bach and more. Also at Beall Hall, Rachel Podger, who tops the next generation of Baroque violin stars, leads the Berwick Academy in music by Baroque masters Bach, Handel, Telemann and more July 6, and plays sonatas and partitas by Bach, Giuseppe Tartini and Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber July 9.

Young Blood

Some of the nation’s leading high school choral singers convene under the direction of OBF veteran Armstrong to sing Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass at the Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy concert July 3 at the Hult Center. And Portland’s Tears of Joy puppet theater entertains kids with The Jungle Book July 9.

Core classics

Although founder Helmuth Rilling won’t be here, his successor Matthew Halls leads two of Western music’s landmarks: Bach’s career-culminating B Minor Mass (for the first time at OBF, at last, on period instruments) in the festival’s June 23 opener at the Hult’s Silva Hall, and Bach’s compilation of vocal-orchestral masterpieces collectively called the Christmas Oratorio during the ever-fascinating “Discovery Series” at the Hult’s Soreng Theater. Appropriately, between those Baroque masterpieces and the festival’s closing Romantic masterpiece, Brahms’s consoling German Requiem and esteemed music scholar and keyboardist Robert Levin leads a three-part series (June 29, July 1, July 3) of music by Classical-era masters Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven at Beall Hall.

Conventional concerts are only part of what makes the festival special. Check the On the House schedule for various talks, free performances and other events at