Just in: Oregon announces successor to Helmut Rilling

Just in: Oregon announces successor to Helmut Rilling


norman lebrecht

August 25, 2011

It’s never easy to follow a founder, and Helmut Rilling has led the Oregon Bach Festival for all of 41 years. The search for a successor has taken two years and the successful candidate was named today.

He is Matthew Halls, 35, an English harpsichordist, organist and conductor. Halls led the Retrospect Ensemble, which branched out from the King’s Consort after its founder, Robert King, was jailed for indecent assault. Lately, he has been conducting symphony orchestras with conspicuous success. He won the Oregon post fair and square from several impressive candidates.

Here’s the Oregon announcement:

Oregon Bach Festival Names Matthew Halls as Artistic Director
For release August 24, 2011, 1:05 pm Pacific Time

Eugene, Oregon—The Oregon Bach Festival announced today the appointment of 35-year-old British conductor and keyboardist Matthew Halls as its next artistic director.

Halls will assume artistic leadership after the 2013 season, succeeding Helmuth Rilling, the founding artistic director from Stuttgart who will remain with the University of Oregon event as director emeritus.

In his announcement, John Evans, OBF president and executive director, said that Halls was the ideal candidate at the right time.

“In Matthew, we found a candidate who has it all,” said Evans, “a range of repertoire well-matched to the programming needs of the Festival; an international reputation in the worlds of choral and early music, specializing in historically-informed performances; consummate skill as a Bach interpreter; a commitment to teaching and education; and most of all, a figure who is passionate about the music at the heart of the OBF, and charismatic in communicating that passion.”

“I’m absolutely thrilled to have been offered the opportunity to continue and develop my relationship with the Oregon Bach Festival,” said Halls.

“It is a very great honor for me to accept the position of Artistic Director at the festival upon the retirement of Helmuth Rilling—a colossal musical figure for whom I have the deepest admiration,” he continued. “I am looking forward to working closely with John Evans to help preserve everything that makes this festival so special, whilst exploring and developing new ideas that will allow the festival’s musical and educational programs to continue to grow. Above all, I look forward to summer months in Oregon filled with music-making of the highest level as we all make our annual pilgrimage to the Pacific Northwest to celebrate and honor the musical legacy of the great Johann Sebastian Bach.”

Based in London, Halls has made his mark as one of today’s leading young conductors, having made significant debuts with the Houston Symphony, Tonkünstler Orchestra, Bach Collegium Stuttgart, Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo, Berlin Radio Symphony, Frankfurt Radio Symphony, Iceland Symphony, and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. His 2011 season includes engagements with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, Detroit Symphony, Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra, and the National Symphony in Washington, D.C.

He is the founding director of the Retrospect Ensemble, formed in 2009, though already in the vanguard of performance-practice groups with an annual series in London’s famed Wigmore Hall and appearances ranging from the Edinburgh International Festival to the Krakow Festival of Polish Music and a relationship with the Korean National Opera.

Retrospect’s recent recording of Bach’s Easter and Ascension oratorios on the Linn label, “a disc to make your heart leap” (The Times-London), is a finalist in the Baroque Vocal category as the 2011 Gramophone Record of the Year.

Halls has performed on keyboard for such period-practice luminaries as John Eliot Gardiner, Ton Koopman, and Monica Huggett. A former director of the UK’s famed King’s Consort, he has worked extensively with many of Europe’s foremost early music groups, and in opera houses including The Netherlands Opera, Bavarian State Opera, and Komische Oper Berlin, in venues such as the Megaron (Athens), Lincoln Center (New York) and Wiener Festwochen (Vienna).

On disc, Halls’s 2007 recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations on harpsichord earned the “outstanding” list of the International Record Review. “Halls is a formidably talented young keyboard player, bursting with energy and inspiration, wrote the Evening Standard.

Halls graduated from Oxford and taught there five years. His belief in the importance of music education is reflected by his development of Retrospect’s flourishing Young Artist Program, his teaching at summer schools and courses including the Jerusalem Early Music Workshop and the Dartington International Summer School, and his work as a tutor with the European Union Baroque Orchestra, a continent-wide training initiative for young performers.

Halls’s eclectically designed choral programs span centuries, juxtaposing composers as diverse as Byrd and Britten, Gesualdo and Schoenberg. Yet, he has an avowed passion for the 19th century Germanic and 20th century British repertoires.

His opera pedigree ranges from the Renaissance and Baroque to modern works. In addition to European and Asian engagements, he’s been a guest conductor with Colorado’s Central City Opera the last two summers, directing a premiere of his own edition of Handel’s opera Amadigi di Gaula in 2011 and Puccini’s Madame Butterfly in 2010.

Halls made his OBF debut in July 2011 as concert conductor and lecturer-teacher in the conducting master class. His Eugene and Portland concerts met with instant standing ovations, rapturous applause, and critical praise.

He conducted Rilling’s own Bach Collegium and Gachinger Kantorei during the 2010 Stuttgart European Music Festival, an engagement that led to his Eugene debut; the world premiere recording of the reconstruction of Grandi’s Vespro del Beate Vergine taken live from this concert has just been released by Carus.

“I have seen Matthew Halls working and conducting in Stuttgart and Eugene,” said Rilling. “He is an unusually gifted musician with a solid professional grounding and exceptional charisma. I’m sure he will preserve the heritage of our Festival, and will also find new ways to enrich the lives of many people with our music.”

The atmosphere that Rilling and the Festival has created in Eugene was a strong attraction to Halls. “My trip to Eugene this past July ranks amongst one of the most stimulating and rewarding collaborations of my musical career to date,” he said. “I was immediately struck by the extraordinary levels of talent and commitment amongst musicians and staff alike and experienced firsthand the very real sense of pride that the local community feels for this magnificent festival.”

In his announcement, Evans, former Head of Music at BBC’s Radio 3 cultural network for 12 years, outlined a process that began soon after he joined the Festival in 2008.

“The search committee identified twenty potential candidates,” said Evans. “Eight of whom have now appeared here as guest conductors, and we had extensive talks with two others. It’s interesting that Matthew joins the Festival at the same age as Helmuth (Rilling) when the Festival started, 42 years ago. That indicates the Festival and University of Oregon are ready to invest in a rare, young talent, someone with a fresh approach capable of taking this organization to even greater heights.”

Halls will conduct programs in the 2012 and 2013 Oregon Bach Festival as artistic director designate. His 2012 repertoire will be announced at the OBF’s season preview in the last week of October.  Festival dates for 2012 are June 29-July 15.


  • MWnyc says:

    Good! Does this mean that the Oregon Bach Festival will finally start using period instruments?

  • Doug says:

    Pffft. That would make them just like every other festival. Yawn.

    You obviously have no appreciation of what Rilling could do.

    • Galen Johnson says:

      Well said, Doug. I’m bored with period instrument/”historically-informed” types claiming exclusive access to arcane enlightenment, higher virtue and immaculate purity.