University pays sacked maestro $90,000 for his silence

University pays sacked maestro $90,000 for his silence


norman lebrecht

September 14, 2017

The Register Guard of Eugene, Oregon, reports that the University has agreed to pay Matthew Halls $90,000 after brutally sacking him as artistic director of the Oregon Bach Festival.

The deal is that neither side will say bad things about the other for two years and that both will give 24 hours’ notice before speaking to media.

This shambles just gets worse and worse.

The University, having failed to say why it sacked the unblemished Halls, is now throwing money at him to buy silence. This is neither good governance, nor good use of public money. The vastly overpaid Provost ought to face questioning by state authorities.



  • Olassus says:

    Curiouser and curiouser: if the university has done nothing wrong, why does it need to buy his silence?

    It appears a decision was made a few months ago to change the nature of the festival (effectively changing the terms) midway thru his four-year contract.

  • Marc says:

    The non-disparagement stipulation of the settlement is permanent. The 7th paragraph of the settlement, referring to the need to give 24 hours’ notice and so forth, is for ‘twelve months’, which is one year as far as I know but with lawyers? maybe not.

    I’m not sure what this settlement means, apart from the fact that the UO/OBF is still damaged and in crisis and that the administrators haven’t attempted ‘transparency’– perhaps those people aren’t quite sure what that word means. I’m told that there is very little in the arts world, however, even outside of the blessed UO.

  • Dan P. says:

    First, I think it may be premature to assume sinister intent on anyone’s part. First of all, settlement agreements with confidentiality provisions are standard legal agreements in the US. It may be buying someone’s silence, but if one feels a wrong is not being avenged they don’t actually have to accept it – or the money. Apparently Mr. Halls agreed to the settlement. And, there are consequences if one of the parties breaches the agreement. I don’t think anyone but the parties knows what’s involved there, correct?

    Second, people are let out of contracts for all sorts of good reasons, bad reasons, or even silly reasons. Like all employment agreements, I’m sure Mr. Halls’ contract has a termination clause that clearly states the conditions upon which UO may terminate the relationship it has with Mr. Halls. (If the Univ. of Oregon violated it, Mr. Halls would have had grounds to sue the university for breach.)

    Third, if the reason (as the article stated) is that attendance has been in a severe downward spiral, it’s not surprising that they would sack the music director, although it would seem a smarter course would be to perform some due diligence to determine why before taking any course of action, but I’m not sure non-music types running a musical enterprise would think that far. Who knows?

    It’s sad that a beloved and highly respected music director is let go, but, after all, it’s the university’s decision to make. If the donor’s didn’t like it, they always pull their money and see about creating some other kind of festival to invest in.

    Just a thought….

    • Olassus says:

      Good points.

      In I think the first statement by the university, the notion of a more “diverse” festival was raised.

      It is odd, isn’t it, to move toward diversity in a festival devoted to one composer?

      No doubt Matthew Halls has imagined from the start an Oregon Bach Festival in the tradition of European festivals. Who wouldn’t?

  • Marc says:

    Dan P, MH was a ‘contracted employee’ and the UO only had to give a month’s notice to terminate his contract (MH isn’t ‘officially’ ‘done’ until the 24th).

    I appreciated MH’s work and was sorry to see that the UO/OBF had terminated his contract. Apart from the sense that an injustice was perpetrated against MH, what has chiefly exercised my ire is the opaque manner in which this change (one of many to come, evidently) has happened or, better, been imposed on the larger community (e.g. the OBF board wasn’t consulted) of muscians, donors, friends, audience, and the fact that the self-contradictory statements explaining the matter have caused folks to suspect that there was some grave cause of it all (a serious ethical lapse, perhaps) that was being concealed– when in fact it may simply have been the UO wanting to make changes perceived as necessary by someone or someones in the UO administration.

    That MH and the UO have made this agreement, with its (however ‘standard’) non-disparagement clause et alii, makes me wonder if it is as NL writes here (which is what I and many others have tended to believe for these three weeks), if there is in fact some ethical etc lapse or lapses news of which will eventually leak, if… lots of other potential ‘ifs’– perhaps MH is just wanting to be done with the UO/OBF as rapidly as possible (which I’d understand!!).

  • Dan P. says:

    It is too bad that he was let go. I wasn’t familiar with him or his work but he was obviously appreciated by musicians and audience members.

    The thing is, ALL institutional statements about their doings are self-congratulatory and opaque (not to say, to some degree, dishonest) since they are usually prepared either by legal or public relations folks, who get paid to produce such statements when needed. The questions I have are these:

    (1) issues of confidentiality or non-disparagement aside, to what degree does an organization owe it to various groups to share private information about its HR actions outside of the fact of someone having committed a crime and is being prosecuted? I would think none. The board and donors may either acquiesce or take action (resign or withhold funds) if they are not given a satisfactory justification. Audiences can vote with their feet, so to speak, if they don’t like the action.

    (2) If the organization does issue a statement, what would the upside be of offering the unvarnished truth – especially if that truth puts one of the parties in a bad light? I don’t see any – either for the organization or the wronged employee – at least not in the world I’m familiar with.

    (3) Given that organizations always tend to justify their actions by slinging mud on the individual (whether it is true or not), would the employee REALLY want to have this aired in public? Would any of us want that? I’m willing to bet that the answer is no. I don’t think that the audience is really owed anything in this regard. It should take the information it has and then act in a way that seems appropriate.

    • MWnyc says:

      Dan, if you’re not familiar with Matthew Halls’s work, let me recommend one of his CDs. I really think it’s one of the best Bach recordings out there.

      J.S. Bach: Easter and Ascension Oratorios
      Sampson, I. Davies, Gilchrist, Harvey
      Retrospect Ensemble / Matthew Halls
      Linn Records

      • Dan P. says:

        Thanks for the recommendation! I listened to a few snippets from it on the link and I was really impressed from what I heard. The orchestra sounds great and the choral singing is first rate. I’ll order the CD tomorrow I’d really like to hear the entire thing. I see Halls also made a recording of the Goldberg Variations and accompanied Monica Huggett in the Biber Rosary Sonatas.

        Again, thank you for pointing these out to me.

  • Bruce says:

    Seems like, if they had terminated him for a legitimate reason, they could say what it was, both to him and to the public. (I realize that is naive of me.)

  • Edgar says:

    I used to be a donor to the OBF. No more. Instead, I recently had the immensely satisfying pleasure to watch MH conduct Beethoven PC 1 and 4, with Paul Lewis, in Reykjavik’s splendid Harpa concert hall.