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Oregon Bach Festival fired trumpet player after learning of sexual assault allegations

File photo of the Oregon Bach Festival in July 2017. A conductor leads musicians.
Athena Delene
Oregon Bach Festival
File photo of the Oregon Bach Festival in July 2017. The festival has come under fire for hiring Matthew Muckey, a trumpet player accused of sexually assaulting a colleague. Muckey denies the claims.

A famed Oregon music festival found itself entangled in a national controversy, after it hired and subsequently fired a musician who had been accused of sexual assault.

In February, trumpeter Matthew Muckey received an invitation to participate in the Oregon Bach Festival as its principal trumpet player. Held since 1970, the Bach Festival is a three-week classical music festival held in Eugene and sponsored by the University of Oregon’s School of Music.

The hire led to an outcry among other members of the orchestra, with many wondering how festival organizers did not know about the allegations, or how they failed to prevent Muckey’s hiring altogether.

Muckey and oboist Liang Wang were at the center of an investigative story in Vulture that rocked the classical music world last week. They were fired from the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 2018 for an alleged sexual assault against a colleague several years prior. They both were reinstated after their union appealed. Both men have denied the claims.

The decision by the Oregon Bach Festival to hire Muckey this year upset many members of the orchestra. Multiple players threatened to leave the orchestra if Muckey was not removed.

Doug Reneau was one of those who declined to participate in the festival this year. He had played in the festival every year since 2016, but said he could not play there if Muckey was on the roster.

“A simple Google search will bring you to Matthew Muckey’s termination from the New York Philharmonic in 2018 — this is not difficult information to find,” he said.

Reneau said in the often insular world of orchestral music, many people knew about the allegations against Muckey. Even after Muckey’s firing, Reneau is still not playing in this year’s festival.

“There were even posts on trumpet forums online posing questions about what had happened,” Reneau said. “It’s a very close community and word gets around fast.”

Josh Gren, director of strategic communications for the University of Oregon’s School of Music and Dance, said the university terminated Muckey’s Bach Festival contract before it went into effect.

He said the university made an offer to Muckey on Feb. 5, and then terminated the contract on Feb. 21.

Muckey never received payment and never participated in festival activities. Gren said Muckey had never before played in the festival.

What Gren would not elaborate on was the reason behind Muckey’s termination. The university fired the trumpeter “without cause,” he said.

“We made this decision back in February to terminate him and we’re not required to give a reason why the termination happened,” Gren said.

But the university was made aware of the allegations against Muckey after news of the hire was made public. That revelation preceded the decision to fire him, Gren said.

Hiring policy needs change, former festival performer says

For some, the situation has brought attention to the festival’s hiring policies. While many orchestras require auditions, positions in the Bach Festival are obtained via an invitation, and word of mouth is a big reason many musicians join the orchestra each year.

Lydia Van Dreel, a professor of horn at the University of Oregon, is one of those advocating for that system to be changed. They participated in the festival in prior years, and said an invitation-only system has the potential to protect abusers, since it relies on hiring big-name talent each year.

“It perpetuates a workplace culture that can protect abusers, and can be really damaging and diminishing to people who don’t have such high status in terms of the classical music industry,” Van Dreel said. “There should be something that is clear and fair.”

They said moving to an audition system has the potential to resolve some of those issues.

Gren said he did not know if the School of Music has engaged in any wider conversations about its hiring practices. After Muckey’s firing, many of the orchestra’s musicians ultimately signed a contract to play this year, he said.

It’s not the first controversy the festival has faced for who it’s hired. The university fired former artistic director Matthew Halls in 2017, after it received multiple complaints regarding alleged sexist comments made by the British-born conductor.

Copyright 2024 Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Joni Land