Bob Keefer on art and music around Eugene, Oregon

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Danail Rachev to step down as music director of Eugene Symphony after next season

Symphony conductor Danail Rachev, Mayors Art Show

Symphony music director Danail Rachev with Roger Saydack

Danail Rachev will leave his post as music director of the Eugene Symphony at the end of the 2016-17 season, his eighth with the orchestra, according to an announcement today from the symphony association.

No reason was given for his departure, and there was no word about Rachev’s future plans. Next season will mark the end of his second four-year contract with the symphony.

The symphony has distinguished itself for decades with its unusual, highly public procedure — overseen by Eugene lawyer Roger Saydack — for selecting music directors. Saydack oversaw the hiring of Rachev’s three predecessors — Marin Alsop, Miguel Harth-Bedoya and Giancarlo Guerrero — as well as Rachev himself.

Saydack confirmed by email this afternoon that he will once more head the search committee for a new music director.

Under Saydack’s leadership, the orchestra has in the past brought three finalists to town for free public performances as part of the hiring process. Today’s announcement made it clear that at least a similar procedure will be followed next season, which will include three public concerts conducted by candidates for the job.

Each program will include “a Mozart overture, followed by a challenging 20th-century concerto performed by a rising star soloist,” today’s announcement said. “The concluding piece or pieces on each program will be determined by the finalists once they are selected this fall.”

An announcement about the search will be made February 26, the symphony said.





John Evans’ report on the future of the Oregon Bach Festival: Oddly censored, but showing the fest’s sudden downward trend


When John Evans quietly left his job as General Director and President of the Oregon Bach Festival in late 2014, he said said he was assigned to draft a long-term strategic plan for the festival in his final months on the University of Oregon payroll.

Last month I sent a public records request to the UO – an institution hardly known for its transparency – for a copy of that plan.

To my surprise, it came by email last week. The UO public records office didn’t even demand a payment for the effort of locating it.

On the other hand, this is the UO. The 116-page document, titled “Oregon Bach Festival: The Next Decade,” is marked by a series of odd redactions – words and phrases and whole sentences are blacked out (or, in some cases, whited out). I say “odd,” because in many cases it’s perfectly easy to tell what the document must actually say. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of OBF can fill in many of the blanks, which tend to be names like artistic director Matthew Halls and founders Royce Saltzman and Helmuth Rilling.

Evan’s 116-page plan is actually a 35-page document with a ton of appendices (including, oddly, a newspaper story I wrote in 2006 about a consultant’s report critical of the festival’s management).

His biggest recommendation is that OBF should put the executive director clearly in charge of the festival, rather than having shared governance, so to speak, between the exec and the artistic director. That recommendation already seems to have been ignored in hiring Janelle McCoy to replace Evans; she has the title “Executive Director,” rather than “General Director,” which Evans insisted on to give him sole authority.

Also interesting is the steady decline in attendance you see in figures taken from festival wrap-up news releases contained in the report’s vast appendices. Attendance plummeted from a high of 44,148, in 2011, to “nearly 20,000” in 2014, the figures show – a drop of more than 50 percent in the transition period from Helmuth Rilling as artistic director to the current artistic administration of Matthew Halls. Ticket revenue in that period peaked at $550,000 in 2012; subsequent releases omit revenue numbers.

Evans goes on in his report to suggest the festival needs to clarify its vision.

It’s hard to know exactly what he has to say, though, as a whole section of his report is blacked out, as below:




He seems to be saying that Halls isn’t conducting enough Bach, considering that this is a Bach festival. (It was Halls who conducted Haydn, Bruckner, Beethoven, Brahms and Mahler at the festival in 2015; Rilling conducted the St. John Passion; and Masaaki Suzuki conducted an orchestral program with the Berwick Academy.)

Anyway, Evans is gone, the new executive director is to start work this month replacing him, and so OBF is free to file and ignore his plan. It will be interesting to see what Halls and McCoy actually do in the next few years.

Read the entire Evans report here

Support Eugene Art Talk — painlessly! — when you shop online for the holidays



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If you do your online shopping using the Amazon link below, I receive a small cut from every purchase you make. This helps. I have run Eugene Art Talk as a subscription blog since its opening in August 2014. While the community has been generous with its subscription support, the pool of potential subscribers in and around Eugene isn’t as large as, say, the pool of people who read the New York Times or the Huffington Post.

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Eugene Symphony takes us to a quiet but enjoyable New World

Danail Rachev, music director

Danail Rachev, music director

It was a pleasant evening tonight at the symphony — nothing too wild and nothing at all out of place.

The program, which was all about America, began with a couple early 20th century pieces that set a couple people’s teeth on edge: Charles Ives “The Unanswered Question,” and Edgard Varese “Ameriques.”

The latter piece, especially, was destined to piss some people off, with its dissonance and cacophony and its enormous orchestra — about 140 musicians were on stage, as the symphony orchestra was joined by the students of the University of Oregon Orchestra .

But, alas, the Varese was not much more than wonderfully and satisfyingly loud. It seemed very much of a moment in time,  a long time ago, and felt, despite its energy, sometimes quaint. A friend, at intermission, said it was music to commit suicide to. No, it wasn’t that bad, and it wasn’t really bad at all — it was just kind of predictable.

The second half of the program was Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World.”

This, of course, is music to hum along to — pretty much everyone knows it — and Rachev’s interpretation was OK but lacked much sparkle. The real heroes and heroines of this piece are the woodwinds, and they played valiantly, but were sometimes lost in the overall balance.

It was a fine night, though, the hall was nearly full, and I’m looking forward to hearing Elizabeth Racheva — Danail’s wife — next month when she joins bass-baritone Joseph Barron in a program of Broadway hits.


Want to go to Ashland — and support Oregon Mozart Players?


Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s outdoor Elizabethan Theatre.

Oregon Mozart Players’ annual Mozart Magic dinner and auction is coming up at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, April 19, at Eugene’s Valley River Inn.

High on the list of great items you can bid on is a trip to Ashland, in a package that includes tickets to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival as well as the Britt Festival in Jacksonville. Lodging is at the Lithia Springs Resort.

If that doesn’t suit you, you can also bid on a week at a private house in Provence — yes, the place in France.

My own favorite item is the opportunity to join OMP music director Kelly Kuo in Cincinnati  (OK, it’s Cincinnati , but still…) for a weekend in August while he conducts the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra.  The package also includes ice cream, just in case the Midwestern summer….

OMP hopes to raise about a sixth of this season’s $300,000 budget at the auction, which also includes dinner (your choice of fruitwood grilled salmon or truffle wild mushroom pasta.

Rumor has it Mozart himself will be on hand, selling raffle tickets at the fete.

Tickets to Sunday’s dinner are $75 each, $600 for a table of eight. Call 541-345-6648 to make reservations or email OMP’s administrative assistant Chen-Yun Yang at







Marsalis with the Eugene Symphony: Sweet as whiskey and honey



A slightly different crowd – a bit younger and a bit hipper than usual – nearly filled the Hult Center’s Silva Concert Hall Thursday night, drawn there for a guest performance by celebrity saxophonist Branford Marsalis with the Eugene Symphony.

Marsalis, here in town for a five-day residency with the orchestra, charmed the crowd from the moment he appeared on stage, playing a sweet and effortless rendition of Jacques Ibert’s Concertino de camera for alto saxophone and orchestra in the first half of the program, and coming back in the second for John Williams’ Escapades for alto saxophone and orchestra.

With the musicians under the baton of guest conductor Christian Knapp, the program was slightly different from usual, too – closer to pop or jazz than to the usual mix of Beethoven, Brahms and Bach we all know so well.

Knapp conducted with a light but energetic touch, always on top of the music and the musicians, and graceful and fun for the audience to watch; his best work, I think, came with a deftly performed set of symphonic dances from West Side Story that closed the program (though I’m afraid that now I’ll be humming bits of the music for the next week).

Hearing Marsalis on sax was like sipping whiskey and honey; his best opportunity to shine came in a cadenza in the third movement of the Ibert, and his sound filled the cavernous Silva Hall with a single perfect voice.

The Williams piece was less convincing to me, possibly because I’m not a huge fan of Williams’ work, but the audience loved it, and I was obviously outvoted.

A nice surprise was John Harbison’s Remembering Gatsby: Foxtrot for orchestra; in the short, humorous work, a foxtrot seemed to struggle to break musically free of a traditionally classical sound.

Nice work, all around, and a pleasant evening for all.

The photo above shows Marsalis on Tuesday talking to students at a master class he gave for the jazz bands at Shasta Middle School and Willamette and South high schools.

A last-minute musical stocking-stuffer: New Millennium Music for Horn


While hanging out with Orchestra Next the other night at the Hult Center, I was reminded that I’ve been meaning to do a quick review of a new CD from horn player Lydia Van Dreel — who, not coincidentally, performs with ON.

A new solo album from Van Dreel, a music professor at the University of Oregon, “New Millennium Music for Horn” is an hour-long collection of eight pieces for horn, written — yes — since the turn of the century/millennium 15 years ago. It features work by a number of current or former UO musicians.

As you might have guessed, this isn’t exactly your father’s brass band music. We’re not talking Sousa here. Some tracks — like Brian McWhorter’s “Build,” which concludes the album, may sound to more than a few listeners like a horn player tuning up, though it’s a good deal more fun than that.

My own favorite is Thomas Hundemer’s “Gently Weep,” which actually does allude, lightly, to the Beatles tune.

You can get New Millennium Music for Horn on Amazon, either as an MP3 or a physical CD (And where you can also hear sample), as well as at CDBaby and other music outlets.




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