Hannah Penn.

Willamette Master Chorus review: Triple treat

Helmuth Rilling leads singers and orchestra in richly rewarding performances of J.S. Bach cantatas


When we encounter Helmuth Rilling, we can always count on learning in triplicate: theology, pedagogy and, of course, the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Last Saturday night, at Hudson Hall on the campus of Willamette University, the internationally famous conductor and pedagogue brought us three distinct gifts — and a bonus present.

Helmuth Rilling and the Willamette Master Chorus. Photo: Sue Hale.

Helmuth Rilling and the Willamette Master Chorus. Photo: Sue Hale.

Well known for four decades in Oregon as the founder/music director of the Oregon Bach Festival, Maestro Rilling retired from OBF in 2013, but continues to guest conduct internationally, and most recently in the U.S. where he started on the east coast, touched down in Minneapolis to lead a Brahms Requiem, and finally here in Salem, to grace us again with Bach. Since he will not be conducting at the Bach Festival this summer, for the first time since he founded it in 1970, this was the only opportunity to hear Rilling work his magic in Oregon this year.

There is a special aura that surrounds an event like this: a buzz through the audience at intermission; an ebullience of spirit before and after the concert. It was an event that brought together choral cognoscenti from Salem, Eugene, from Portland, high school, college and community choral directors and performers, all converging in Salem to appreciate a uniquely Oregon transplant, Helmuth Rilling. Both concerts (Saturday and Sunday) were sold out. We were richly rewarded.


Portland Baroque Orchestra review: Handel in good hands

Dramatic sensibility and musical virtuosity make Handel’s music soar.


Seeing Handel arias on a program fills me with dread.

Unlike Bach or Purcell, whose music has enough intrinsic novelty to carry even a really bad actor, Handel offers no hiding places. His music was deliberately composed with plenty of elbow room for dramatic interpretation and embellishment. It’s like one of those flat gray rocks you pick up on the beach because its beauty just staggers you at the time, but then you find it in your pocket when you get home and wonder why you kept it. The challenge for any artist attacking a program of Handel is to make the audience want to pick up that rock and keep it forever.

Artslandia-ORAWreviewI’d be surprised if anyone at First Baptist Church Saturday night didn’t leave with their pockets full.

With a flair for drama and a penchant for light, crisp readings and dizzyingly fast tempi, guest director Alexander Weimann led Portland Baroque Orchestra in an inspired program of arias and duets from Handel’s operas and oratorios, threaded together with movements from the same composer’s Op. 6 concerti grossi to create a single transporting dramatic piece.


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