Remembering Royce Saltzman


Oregon Bach Festival (OBF) is deeply saddened to announce the passing of Dr. H. Royce Saltzman. The OBF co-founder, long-time executive director, and board member died on Monday, April 3rd surrounded by his family. He was 94 years old. 

"This is a moment of true heartbreak for our festival, the university, and the entire choral community,” says Sabrina Madison-Cannon, Dean of the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance. “Royce 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.”

Royce began his tenure at the University of Oregon in 1964. Over the course of five decades, he 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. He was also an integral member of the Civic Center Commission and the Performing Arts Center Commission, which brought the Hult Center for the Performing Arts to Eugene. 

After founding the Summer Festival of Music in 1970, Royce grew the small workshop and concert series into the three-week, international, multi-million-dollar Oregon Bach Festival. During his 37 years at the helm, 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, which went on to win a Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance. He was responsible for introducing maestro Helmuth Rilling to U.S. audiences and passed his love of choral music down through the highly regarded OBF youth choral academy, which he launched in 1998 with Dr. Anton Armstrong. 

Together, Royce and Helmuth formed a festival that was equally committed to excellence in music and to creating relationships. Year after year, Royce and his wife, Phyllis, opened their home for large receptions and intimate dinners to musicians from around the world, who often commented on the unique quality of OBF, which felt like family.

“Royce changed my life,” recalls long time OBF staff member, Marla Lowen. “OBF was guided by his kind, thoughtful, fair, and caring leadership. He always treated the staff and their families with the utmost respect and regard. He humbly deflected attention and praise directed toward him, insisting that everyone contributed to the success of the festival. Royce touched more lives than anyone can possibly imagine.”

In 1994, Royce 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. In 1996, he received a Distinguished Service Award from the University of Oregon. Throughout his career, Royce 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). Locally, Royce was awarded the Eugene Symphony’s “Advocate for the Arts,” and honored by the Seventy-Seventh Oregon State Congressional Assembly for Cultural Contribution to the State of Oregon.

Royce retired as the festival’s executive leader in 2007 but remained director emeritus and an active part of the advisory board.

While there will be no public remembrance service, OBF will honor Royce’s legacy with a Celebration of Life during the 2023 festival. For those who wish to personally commemorate Royce, public and private digital messages may be sent through an online OBF form. Public messages will be published to the OBF website. Donations may be made in Royce’s name to the Oregon Bach Festival Saltzman Sustaining Endowment to help support future artistic and educational programs.