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New boss hopes to strengthen festival.

Byline: Bob Keefer The Register-Guard

He doesn't start work officially until June, but the new Bach boss was in town last week, looking for a house (he didn't find one) and checking out his new job.

John Evans, a Londoner who most recently worked as an executive at the British Broadcasting Corporation, made his first visit to Eugene after being hired in February as the new executive director of the Oregon Bach Festival. He will replace co-founder Royce Saltzman, who retires after this summer's festival.

Evans, 53, has close-cropped gray hair, a cultured accent and considerable British charm.

In a wide ranging conversation, he sketched some of his ideas for strengthening the 38-year-old Bach festival, whose programming was lambasted as ``stale'' in a private consultant's report commissioned by the University of Oregon last year.

Evans would like to see the festival make greater use of other venues besides the Hult Center. Its 2,500-seat Silva Concert Hall works reasonably well for large choral works, but its dry acoustics and enormous size make it a challenge for smaller concerts.

Beall Concert Hall at the University of Oregon - which is already used by the festival - might get even greater use, Evans said. Designed by Ellis Lawrence and inspired by Boston's Symphony Hall, Beall Hall has great acoustics and is a manageable size - 540 seats.

Evans also would like to see more concerts at the new First Baptist Church north of Eugene, where last year the festival performed the B Minor Mass.

The festival might begin to include more nonmusical arts. ``I'd love to see Garrison Keillor involved with the festival,'' Evans said. ``I would like to see great poets and writers come here for it.''

The festival will continue to commission new works, as it has occasionally done in the past. Evans said the festival is negotiating with a composer right now - he wouldn't say who - for a new work to be presented in 2009.

In the past, Evans said, the festival sometimes has just spent money and then had the UO - which owns the festival - make up the deficit, whatever that comes to.

University officials have said the festival, with a $1.6 million budget, has cost as much as $400,000 each year in money and services.

Evans said he will get a budget in advance each year and stick to it.

The new boss spent his week meeting with university officials and Bach festival staff.

He also met leaders from other Hult Center resident companies such as the symphony, the ballet and the opera.

In April, he traveled to Stuttgart, Germany, to meet with festival artistic director Helmuth Rilling.

``We seem to speak the same language,'' Evans said of Rilling. ``I am not going to be able to replicate the relationship he had with Royce, so I am glad he has decided to stay on for a few years.''

Evans said the festival chorus and orchestra, whose members are selected each year from musicians in both the United States and Germany, are the "foundation" of the festival.

``My approach is going to be to build on that firm foundation,'' he said.

He was enjoying his visit here - the spring weather, he noted, was much like England's - and said he looked forward to settling in on his return.

``The first thing that surprised me about Eugene is that the artistic life is so rich,'' he said. ``I mean, Eugene is not a big town when you've been living in London for years. That was a refreshing discovery.''
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Title Annotation:General News
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 10, 2007
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