Obituary: Oregon Bach Festival Co-Founder Royce Salztman Dies at 94

By Francisco Salazar

The Oregon Bach Festival has announced the passing of Dr. H. Royce Saltzman, one of OBF’s co-founders, long-time executive director, and board member. Saltzman died on April 3 surrounded by his family at the age of 94.

In a statement, Sabrina Madison-Cannon, Dean of the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance said, “This is a moment of true heartbreak for our festival, the university, and the entire choral community. Saltzman was a giant in his field, highly regarded for his decades of commitment to music and education. His passion reverberated across international borders and through multiple generations. I will miss his lively conversations and stories, his guidance, and his charm. The love and support of the festival staff and the entire School of Music and Dance are with the Saltzman family.”

Saltzman first began his tenure at the University of Oregon in 1964 and over five decades served as professor of choral music, associate dean of the School of Music, national president of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), a founding member and president of the International Federation of Choral Music (IFCM), and co-founder and executive director of the Grammy-winning Oregon Bach Festival.

In 1970, he founded the summer music festival and grew the small workshop and concert series into the three-week, international, multi-million-dollar Oregon Bach Festival. He took the festival to the Hollywood Bowl, secured a recording contract with Hänssler Verlag, and commissioned multiple new works including Krzysztof Penderecki’s Credo. That work went on to win a Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance.

In 1994, Saltzman received the highest honor bestowed by the German government, the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, for initiating a cultural exchange that brought together the musicians and musical heritage of Germany and the United States.

He also received a Distinguished Service Award from the University of Oregon and was awarded Chorus America’s Distinguished Service Award, ACDA’s highest recognition, The Robert Shaw Award, lifetime achievement awards from the IFCM (Macao), and the 6th World Children’s Choir Festival (Hong Kong).

He returned from the festival in 2007 but remained director emeritus and an active part of the advisory board.