On Ensemble

Good News, Everyone!

Bach, Broadway and more for local music lovers

Some things just won’t wait. Only two days before he was scheduled to conduct the Oregon Bach Festival’s opening night concert, Matthew Halls received urgent good news: the birth of his and his wife Erin’s son, Henry. While Halls flew to Toronto to be with his family, the festival implemented its backup plan: turning over the reins to Scott Allen Jarrett, who runs Boston’s renowned Back Bay Chorale, choral programs at Boston University and the OBF’s Vocal Fellows program, and reportedly did a bang up job directing Bach’s St. Matthew Passion here. 

Halls is back for the festival’s final week, including this Sunday’s Hult Center performance of one of the greatest of 19th-century sacred choral-orchestral masterpieces, Beethoven’s Solemn Mass (Missa Solemnis), which the composer himself thought superior to his better-known Ninth Symphony. With a team of soloists led by the superb tenor Nicholas Phan plus the festival orchestra and chorus augmented by the University of Oregon Chamber Choir, it should fill even the capacious Silva Hall. 

Another conductor, the respected Danish keyboardist Lars Ulrik Mortensen, leads the festival’s Berwick Academy players in a more intimate concert at the University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall on Thursday, July 13, when the academy’s emerging historically informed performers play a major work by the composer regarded in his time as Europe’s greatest. Nope, not J.S. Bach nor even Handel, but their friend Georg Philipp Telemann, who like several of his contemporaries wrote a couple of colorful pieces based on the characters in Cervantes’s then century-old immortal novel Don Quixote. 

Telemann’s burlesque suite evokes the title character’s love for Dulcinea, his attack on those contentious windmills, his steed Rosinante and Sancho Panza’s donkey, even his debt-caused thrashing and delusional dreams. The concert also includes elegantly triumphant music from Zoroastre by one of the finest French baroque composers, Jean Philippe Rameau, and more. 

On Friday, July 14, the festival turns to global sounds and rhythms with L.A.’s On Ensemble, one of the West’s most prominent taiko ensembles. It’s a real fusion group, embellishing its basic Japanese taiko drumming with influences (jazz, Central Asian throat-singing, hip-hop, electronica) and even instruments (trap set, koto, frame drum, and more) from other cultures. 

Any glimpse at the national headlines since last November is so discouraging that we could all use a little good news right about now. And The Shedd is providing some. B.G. DeSylva, Lew Brown and Ray Henderson’s fizzy musical Good News!, which runs July 21-30, was one of the Jazz Age’s biggest Broadway smashes, later made into a couple of films, and revived (and revised) a couple times, most successfully in a 1993 revival that sprinkled a few more appropriate Henderson hits from other shows of the era. 

It’s actually perfect for Eugene, since the story is set on a college campus and a key plot turn involves a big football game. And it’s probably a good thing that The Shedd is for once using that more recent production rather than going back to the original, whose key plot point took a rosy view of what the NCAA would now call a major rules infraction — grade padding that cost some big-name schools (that is, those that got caught) scholarships and other sports-related penalties.

Set in the Roaring ’20s, the lightweight plot includes a romance between a football coach and an astronomy prof, another between a football star and a nerdy student, sorority girls and varsity dances and jazzy dance numbers and a few standout songs whose titles (“The Best Things in Life Are Free,” “Lucky in Love,” “Just Imagine,” “You’re the Cream in My Coffee,” “Life is a Bowl of Cherries”) give a sense of the musical’s upbeat, pre-Depression sensibility. Ron Daum directs The Shedd’s production, with music directed by Robert Ashens, choreography by Caitlin Christopher, and a cast of veteran Shedd players.

If you didn’t get your fill of outdoor fun at Country Fair, check out the Eugene Symphony’s free alfresco shows, featuring classical bonbons by Tchaikovsky, Copland, Bernstein, John Williams, Sousa, Brahms and more. Tickets for the July 22 Cuthbert Amphitheater show are already gone, but check the Hult Center ticket office close to that date to see if any have been returned, or just head over to the performances at Cottage Grove’s Bohemia Park on the 24th or Roseburg’s Stewart Park on the 25th, no tickets required. 

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