Hints of racism in US sacking of a British Bach director

Hints of racism in US sacking of a British Bach director


norman lebrecht

August 31, 2017

The unexplained dismissal of Mathew Halls as artistic director of the Oregon Bach Festival is being ascribed darkly to ‘personnel issues’.

One theory is that a University of Oregon official took umbrage at an inoffensive jocular remark by Halls to a visiting singer, who took no offence.

Bob Keefer of Eugene Weekly, who is trying to get to the bottom of the matter, fears that the sacking of Halls might be the death knell for the Oregon Bach Festival.

Read on here.


  • Edgar says:

    IF this sacking is indeed the result of over zealous academic political correctness enforced by eavesdropping joke and language police, then no one needs to support the OBF anymore. The UO can present any kind of politically correct, sterilized and Secret Virtue and Vice Police enforced festival it wants. But is must not dare to continue calling it OBF. That is now gone forever. What a foolish shame!

  • Marc says:

    The OBF Facebook page hasn’t allowed new comments since first thing Tuesday (29th August) morning, and apart from disappearing MH from the main pages there’s nothing at the website, not even the famous press release.

    The recourse of choice for bureaucrats indulging their Orwellian instincts, ‘the absolute privacy of Personnel Matters’– the only way around that is through the law courts.

    MH did ‘abandon’ the Bach Passion performances to Scott Jarrett when the Halls’s baby was born, back in July, this season. The UO can probably make something out of that, too, that incident and his alleged un-diverse remarks, tsk. Barbarians within the gates.

    • Marc says:

      Mea culpa, for my OBF Facebook page assertion: it certainly is accepting new comments at this moment. That I couldn’t post yesterday, well, I don’t know why that didn’t work. The possibility of user error, ahem, cannot be discounted. Sorry!

  • Don Ciccio says:

    I don’t know what happened in Oregon but I simply detest the tone of the article. For example saying that Rilling’s Bach is by no way “big, loud and 19th-century Romantic”. Yes, his forces are larger than what usually hears today but a orchestra of 20-30 players and a chorus of some 40-60 singers are a far cry from the 200+ choruses that sang Bach in the Victorian era and, indeed, even in the 20th Century. Plus, Rilling’s phrasing owns a lot to the HIP crowd.

    And while I don’t know Halls’ work in Oregon, he was invited to conduct a few concerts with the National Symphony in Washington. I attended them because of works played (for instance Mendelssohn’s 2nd symphony is not exactly a rarity but it’s not something that you hear every season either). The concerts were B.O.R.I.N.G!!!!!!!!!!

    Rilling was also a guest in Washington and while the results were mixed, they were far preferable to what Halls achieved. Indeed, a Bach cantatas program was one of the concerts that I most fondly remember. I realize not everybody likes this approach but let’s not call it “big and loud” when it’s not.

  • Here is a user comment to another post on this site three months ago.
    “American campuses are becoming frightening places reminiscent of Siberian gulags.”


    But in that case, the victim was “just” an Asian female who wasn’t “even” a musician, so most people were totally fine with it. However, now it seems that you can be in trouble even if you are a white male.

    Maybe in the near future, plastic surgery clinics will offer a service to change the skin color.

    • Robert Holmén says:

      I’ve never been a gulag but having read Solzhenitsyn’s first-person description… no, American campuses are not like one.

      I also doubt that the comment had ever been to a gulag. A preposterous comparison.

      It’s very unlikely someone would get fired for one inappropriate comment, but I have seen people get canned after a comment that was “the last straw” following numerous other foolish acts.

      And then they claim, “Geez, all I did was make one little joke!”

      I have no idea if this is the situation in the current affair. The money theory previously proposed sounds more plausible.

      • skeptic says:

        The money theory is vastly more plausible. Unfortunately, many people seem to have a desire to believe that American campuses are “Stalinist.”

  • Nate says:

    I’m glad these totally unverified reports of “racism” have brought all the baby boomers out of the woodwork to say that they’re totally fine with it. Y’all are hilarious!

  • Marc says:

    If the reported conversation between MH and Reginald Mobley is reported accurately, then I’m totally fine with that ‘racist behavior’, yes.

  • Alexander Platt says:

    Without commenting on the whole side-issue of British executive musicians in America — a subject in and of itself worthy of a Kingsley Amis novel — I have to say that unless Mr. Halls has committed a crime, than the OBF should have been able to suffer through two more years of this very talented conductor’s contract.

  • Jonathan Cable says:

    I don’t believe one bit of these racist allegations. I know Matt and Reggie, they are both as lovely as it gets, and there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that anything of the sort happened, as far as I’m concerned.

    • skeptic says:

      As far as I can tell, the whole story about Halls being dismissed for a “racist remark” was dreamed up by the Eugene Weekly, a publication not known for its journalistic standards. It’s amazing how many people are this credulous.

  • Doug says:

    In my mind, this sordid episode merely reinforces the conclusion that I reached as an insider many years ago: the classical music “industry” is rotten to the core.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Maybe this is relevant. Anthony Horowitz in a recent interview to The Guardian:

    “There is a rigidity in the way we have begun to think and speak. If we step outside certain lines on certain issues, we find not just people disagreeing, but disagreeing to the extent of death threats. When somebody says something untoward in the press, and I am not saying this about myself, people don’t just say that was a stupid thing to say. They say, ‘Lose your job.’ They want you to never ever have an income again.”

  • Mike Schachter says:

    American academia is becoming a very sick joke, especially the so-called arts and humanities. Science is in better shape because many of their students are from Asia and interested in learning, and often in classical music, rather playing at kindergarten Marxism (not that they understand what that means).

  • Fan says:

    This appears to be one of the Curb Your Enthusiasm moments.

  • Don Hohoho says:

    The much-derided Victorian-era performances of baroque masterpieces nevertheless represent a continuous tradition of performance of classical music, which the “original instruments” “movement” does not. Too much fallacy and fraud are perpetrated in that guise. We should value and treasure what continuous legacy we have, and maintain it into the future.