Oregon’s Bach disaster goes global

Oregon’s Bach disaster goes global


norman lebrecht

September 10, 2017

We hear that the Oregon Bach Festival is quietly cancelling contracts with artists who have been asked to perform and teach there next year.

The reasons for Matthew Halls’s dismissal as artistic director, steadily unfolding, are starting to resemble a Gilbert and Sullivan opera. Halls is alleged to have told a racial joke to a close personal friend, who is African-American. A woman who heard the joke reported it to University of Oregon administrators who, alarmed at falling attendances, used it as an excuse to fire Halls.

The Telegraph reports some more details today.

The University has made itself an international laughing stock and the festival is probably dead.



  • Matt Myers says:

    Political correctness will be the death of, not just free speech, but every other kind of human expression.because there will always be some aggrieved minority interest feeling victimized by a perceived injustice.

    In this case however, the conversation was overheard by some deranged, white middle class liberal imbecile who has bought into the “cultural Marxist”, (political correctness gone mad) insanity that seems to have spread like malignant cancer out of Oregon and Seattle universities and across the north western Unites States.

    Time for people to get a grip.

  • Respect says:

    Brit gets fired. Outrage ensues. Institutions will crumble, perhaps mankinds very fate hangs in the balance.

    Move on, there’s nothing to see here. Are you getting a retainer from his agent?

    • James Lewis says:

      The local daily has suppressed the background to the termination, but a local arts weekly is all over it. It appears to be as Matt Myers describes it, and I am from the left side of the dial myself.

    • Amy Adams says:

      “Respect” – you are going out of your way to diminish Halls, almost as if you had a personal vendetta going on. (“…it’s a shame he’s such a baby…” Really???)
      One wonders exactly who you are and why you can’t comment under your real name on this topic.

      The search for Rilling’s successor was not undertaken lightly. I was on the search committee, and know that for a fact. Matthew has been welcomed warmly into the OBF community, and inspired confidence in the festival’s future.

  • DrummerMan says:

    There’s got to be something else going on besides telling an “innocent joke.”

    • EugeneOR says:

      Yes, I definitely think there is more here. I don’t think that’s why he was fired. I hope people keep digging.

      • EricB says:

        Well, the “more” could very well be the slipping attendance figures for the last two seasons…. But you can’t blame only one man for that. It’s a teamwork….
        And if they think they can pull back the figures to where they were during Rilling’s time, they are in for crual disillusions…. (especially if they have to start everything from scratch in 10 months time).

        • EugeneOR says:

          Agreed. But I still think something really bad had to happen for UO to SO quickly fire him. The racism charge just doesn’t pass the smell test to me. The time, effort, and money necessary to hire Matthew Halls was not little. If I were to make a guess, I might think there was some sort of sexual misconduct involved.

          • Fred Mann says:

            You ask us to keep digging, and then you quickly supply the sexual angle in a carefully worded post, so you seem to have come here on a mission to drop this hint. The only question is whether you are an insider who cannot speak publicly, or whether you are an employed defender of the University.

          • norman lebrecht says:

            That is a defamatory suggestion, unsupported by evidence of any kind. Be ashamed of yourself.

          • EricB says:

            That’s a pretty serious “suggestion” to make, especially when nothing, from what I’ve heard or read about MH (I didn’t have the pleasure to work with him, my time was when Rilling was still there), and from the adulation he seems to draw from performers and audiences alike, could make this innuendo credible in the least.

          • Wasthere says:

            To those claiming this is too far, Halls was a heavy drinker and routinely took young grad students out drinking with him.

          • norman lebrecht says:

            Did it affect his work? Social drinking is not a cause for dismissal.

          • EricB says:

            “Halls was a heavy drinker and routinely took young grad students out drinking with him.”

            That heavy ???
            And aren’t grad students supposed to be adults and responsible ? This is not like we are talking about 16 year old high-school kids….

            You can be sure that if the UO had any valid reasons to fire Halls on this kind of “issues”, they would not have been shy about protecting themselves and THEIR reputation.

            Rilling, for all I have seen, was a drug addict too, in that case : (american coffee and big cigars) 😉 😉 😉

            Again, this is close to public defamation….

  • David Boxwell says:

    Halls conducted Beethoven (with Paul Lewis) and Schubert a couple of evenings ago in Reykjavik’s Harpa. We loved him. He’s well shot of the aggro of a typical American college campus.

    • Jim Lewis says:

      We saw him last season conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. It was a terrific performance and it was clear that the orchestra respected and liked him. I agree. He can do better that UO. I just hope that their political idiocy doesn’t affect his career. FYI, we moved to Pittsburgh from Portland a year ago to be near family. We miss the region and our friends, but some of the PCness was getting as grating as the skinheads there have always been.

    • Edgar says:

      Hi David, I agree. I was in Reykjavik on Sept. 7, and the hall was sold out. Superb playing all around. In time, which I hope will not be too long, the UofO at Eugene will be exposed as having overzealously fooled itself by following the lead of self appointed virtue and vice police freaks. Exit OBF. Let’s remember its achievements and not dwell on its ignominious end. Good night, politically correct Eugene. Matthew’s name will be cleared. His career will continue and certainly no longer depend on an American college campus gone haywire in -what’s that crazy place again? Ah yes- Eugene.

      • EricB says:

        It really saddens me that this stupid affair MIGHT, not only kill the OBF, but also affect the reputation of Eugene, which is truly a wonderful place, with wonderful people, where I spent 4 years among the happiest of my life.

      • Jim Lewis says:

        I, too, know Eugene well. We lived in Oregon until last year, and our older daughter has lived in Eugene for most of her adult life. It’s a great town. But given that knowledge, I have just a thought: the reports say only that a white woman heard the remark and was offended for the African-American colleague with whom it was shared (unnecessarily offended, as it turns out), and that the University reacted. Some have pointed out that this seems extreme, but those of us who know Eugene are not totally surprised. (Ask people why the local hospital relocated to another town.) Still … it might be instructive to know WHICH white woman took offense. The reaction may have been just as much a political knee-jerk as one borne purely of political correctness.

  • Marc says:

    You might want to follow the story at UO Matters, a blog written by a UO economics professor who has a history of shining light where it’s not wanted. His post with updates is here. And if you go to the OBF Facebook page, there are links to all the published news articles, on the main thread there or in the ‘Visitor Posts’ section.

    • EricB says:

      Thanks. Very enlightening articles and comments indeed. (The same can’t be said of “Respect”‘s contributions….)

  • David Leonnig says:

    Most of us will never know about what transpired in Artistic Director Matthew Halls firing from OBF. It is an ongoing issue for several reasons:

    1) He was seemingly well-liked and doing a good job by many reports and;
    2) The University of Oregon terminated him without cause and will not say why.

    The University had no problem over the past several years with publicly admonishing a law professor (an employee) for racially charged behavior it deemed out of bounds. It was very public in its reproval and she has been publicly reprimanded. However, it was equally non-transparent in its handling of a curious lockdown at its classical music station KWAX several years ago – again for no apparent reason. After a few letters in the mailbag, I have seen no further statements from the University with regard to KWAX. Both KWAX and OBF are supported by taxpayers who buy tickets and/or donate to their organizations.

    We should all be troubled that the University seems to feel it can deflect process and handle anything in its domain as it sees fit, choosing capriciously to either comment or not. Without applying uniform standards for transparency across its domains, the University draws a line where it can choose to act as both judge and jury. It smacks of an arrogance that is not fitting of my alma mater – a public institution that is supported by ticket sales, merchandise sales, philanthropy, taxes and our loyalty.

    The court of public opinion is letting them off too easily. We the People deserve better treatment