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A riveting Passion.

Byline: Bob Keefer The Register-Guard

It was a very different opening for the Oregon Bach Festival in Eugene Thursday night. New World samba rhythms replaced the measured sounds of old Europe as a South American choir and orchestra brought a 21st century Saint Mark's Passion to a sparse crowd at the Hult Center's Silva Concert Hall.

Make that "La Pasion Segun San Marcos." It's a fully multicultural work, written by Osvaldo Golijov - a Jewish composer who grew up in Catholic Argentina - and first performed in 2000 in Stuttgart, Germany. It has drawn rave reviews around the world.

And, oddly enough, it was conceived here in Eugene, explained a nervous-looking Royce Saltzman, executive director of the Bach Festival, as he surveyed the unusual opening night crowd. The Bach Festival has never opened on a Thursday night in its 36-year history, and he didn't quite know what to expect.

Shorts and sports shirts were more in evidence than formal wear. The only black ties to be seen were on the waitresses at the wine bar. Families with small children took advantage of the $22 general admission ticket price to hear a performance of top-rate contemporary music. Singers from the Pacific International Children's Choir Festival, held in Eugene this week, warmed up the crowd in the lobby before the concert began.

"It's the largest piece we've ever done," Saltzman said, explaining that the Thursday night "preview" performance - the piece will be performed again tonight with more conventional (and more expensive) reserved seating - was made necessary by the costs of bringing the three-score musicians here from South America.

Despite the lower price, no more than two-thirds of the seats were filled in the 2,500-seat hall.

The Passion got its start, Saltzman said, when conductor Maria Guinand was at the Bach Festival in 1996, along with composer Golijov, and both were talking with festival Artistic Director Helmuth Rilling.

Rilling told them he wanted to commission works to commemorate Bach's 250th anniversary year in 2000. "He indicated to Osvaldo that he should compose one of them. And that Maria's should be one of the choirs. From what I have heard they were out in the alley talking, and Helmuth was smoking. And they had this idea."

The idea blossomed in the Silva on Thursday with explosive energy. With English supertitles translating the Spanish choral text, Guinand's Schola Cantorum singing and the Orquesta Pasion playing such un-Bach-like instruments as the accordion and the guitar, the story unfolded, through music and dance, of Jesus' last days on Earth.

For 90 minutes, the performers brought the power of a Latin American street festival to the Silva stage, lacking only the smell of charcoal and cilantro. It was music that made people want to dance in the aisles one moment and left them lost in quiet reflection the next.

When it all ended, the hall sat dead silent for a long moment, and then for another as the audience caught its breath, and then it erupted in wild applause and shouting.

That's apparently a common reaction. "In Germany," Saltzman said, "they are so staid. And yet when the performance was over, it was 20 minutes they were clapping and cheering in the aisles."

OREGON BACH FESTIVAL

When: Today through July 10

Season highlights: Northwest U.S. premiere of La Pasion Segun San Marcos by Osvaldo Golijov, American premiere of "The Uncle From Boston" by Felix Mendelssohn, Christmas Oratorio by J.S. Bach, and "The Creation" by Franz Joseph Haydn, plus the Kronos Quartet, Tempesta di Mare, Imani Winds and more

OREGON BACH FESTIVAL

TODAY

8 p.m.: Pasion Segun San Marcos, Maria Guinand conducting (Hult Center's Silva Concert Hall)

10 p.m.: Post-concert reception, Hilton Eugene, 66 E. Sixth

SATURDAY

11 a.m. and 1 p.m.: Eugene Opera's "Little Red Riding Hood" (Hult Center's Soreng Theatre)

Noon: Ragazzi Boy Choir of San Francisco and Brisbane Biralee Voices From Australia (Hult Center lobby)

8 p.m.: Pianist Ya-Fei Chuang (UO's Beall Hall)

MORE INFORMATION

Hult Center box office, 682-5000

CAPTION(S):

The opening ceremonies of this year's Oregon Bach Festival on Thursday included a performance of `La Pasion Segun San Marcos,' by Osvaldo Golijov.
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Title Annotation:Entertainment; Anxiety gives way to appreciation as the Oregon Bach Festival opens on a new night
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 24, 2005
Words:695
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