Region I AGO Convention
Worcester, Massachusetts June 27-30, 1999
Contained on this page: reviews by Stephen Roberts, Malcolm Wechsler
From: Stephen Roberts
Subject: Kudos to Worcester!
I returned last night from four days in Worcester at the Region I convention. Malcolm Wechsler has done a far better job than I ever could in his accounts of each day of the convention, so I will not repeat what he has said. I would only like to say that Worcester was the best Regional convention I have ever attended! There were a very wide variety of events for every taste and interest, and the level of playing in the recitals was of the very highest caliber. The Worcester people themselves are a great group of people; they are a group that obviously enjoys each other's company and work extremely well and efficiently together. Rarely in my life have I ever met so many nice people! It was great to see old friends and make some new ones, including some from the list in both categories: my good friend, Malcolm Wechsler; Will Scarboro; Lois Toeppner (who did a fabulous job as the chair of the convention, BTW); Joe Vitacco of JAV recordings; Alan Laufman of Organ Clearing House; and Harold Stover from Portland, ME to name a few. I had a wonderful time getting to know Frank Corbin, chair of the competition, better; he is fine gentleman with a very dry wit! I had not known Katherine Pardee before I met her at the competition; what a terrific and brilliant young woman! I talked to Mark Dwyer from Advent, Boston a good bit; he's a very talented person, who is also very witty. Of course I also talked with my fellow New Haveners Martin Jean and Tom Murray, too. I also renewed acquaintance with the charming virtuoso organist Joyce Jones from Baylor; she is always a delight! I met so many wonderful people, and heard some of the best playing I've heard in a very long time, too. What a week; I'm sure that everyone who attended will remember Worcester for many, many years to come.
Three cheers for
the fine folks in Worcester!
Instead of the ritual post-church Sunday afternoon nap, I drove the 130 miles to Worcester, Massachusetts for the opening of the Region 1 Regional Convention, and what a grand opening it was, if a somewhat warm one. I have twice visited the chapel of Holy Cross College in Worcester, drawn obviously by the magnificent Taylor and Boody organ. No word less than magnificent can adequately describe this organbuilding monument, a four-manual mechanical instrument dedicated on Bach's 300th birthday, March 21, 1985, and looking as wonderful as it sounds. It's one of those instruments whose scaling, voicing,finishing, placement, encasement, all conspire to bring the sound of every pipe gently but firmly to one's ears, no matter where one is seated.
Tonight's program was billed as the convention's Opening Convocation and Concert, with James David Christie on his home territory, and the choir of Boston's Church of the Advent under the direction of Edith Ho, assisted by Mark Dwyer. In the west gallery were the Paramount Brass, who, with Jim Christie at the organ, brilliantly played the procession of chapter deans and other dignitaries down the aisle with Cantate Domino of Hieronymus Praetorius. After that came my only disappointment of the evening. We sang the wonderful tune "Rendez a Dieu" in unison throughout. A chapel full of organists, and we were allowed no harmony! Well, it has to be said that it was a pretty exciting unison, and in a very warm and resonant space! We were then well and truly welcomed, first by Lois Toeppner, Convention Coordinator, who also brought us greetings from the governor of the state and the mayor of Worcester. Lois was followed by Victoria Wagner, Region 1 Councillor, who in turn was followed by John Chappell Stowe, national vice president of the Guild. Good speeches all.
Then followed an intricate little exercise which worked beautifully, partly thanks to a very clearly-organized printed program, a very effective cantor, drawn from the Advent choir, and the fact that we were all such smart musicians! The cantor began by singing the first line of Magnificat (in Latin), this to the beautiful ninth tone (Tonus Peregrinus), so often associated with Magnificat, and then the pattern began. Jim Christie played the first of five Magnificat versets by Samuel Scheidt (Et exultavit). Guided by the very clear and expressive conducting of the cantor (NO MICROPHONE, of course!), we then followed with Quia respexit, followed by another verset from the organ, continuing in this way until we sang the final Gloria, followed by Scheidt: Sicut erat. Each Scheidt verset was a splendid study in word-painting, and they were wonderfully registered and played with excitement and clarity. I would say "Don't try this at home," but with a near perfect room, filled with experienced musicians, it worked really well - a most moving little spiritual exercise. By the way, a very nice touch: in the printed program for this evening in our fine convention book, and in other programs throughout the book, where possible, and where a work is not very familiar and in many editions, a publisher is listed, in red, beneath the title. Thank you, someone.
I have never heard the Advent choir, but have known something of what they do, and the skill and style with which they do it. They were about 20 strong (I forgot to count), including one blind lady who marched up the aisle in procession with her guide dog.This is a youthful choir, but fully mature vocally, and entirely sensitive to Edith Ho's very minimal conducting. Said simply, they are wonderful. They sang the Kyrie and Gloria from the Dufay Mass, "Se la face ay pale."
Then, back to the organ, with four charming 16th century dance movements by Suzanne van Soldt, from Monumenta Musica Neerlanica III, and the Buxtehude Praeludium in G Minor (BuxWV 148). Then followed something of a memory for me. Jim played a Ciaconna in B flat Major by Johann Bernhard Bach, which I heard him do once before, in Baltimore, on a very small two-manual instrument with few resources. There are LOTS of variations - I now wish I had counted. In Baltimore, with only two manuals, and not a lot of variety anyway, time was needed between variations, which served to lengthen the whole exercise. Between the fact of the very short and simple harmonic pattern of the Ciaconna subject, and, it has to be said, the rather first-year-theory-exercise nature of the variations, in Baltimore, it began to strike the funny bones of the audience, so that as variation piled on variation, there were suppressed (more-or-less) giggles everywhere, and a great release of laughter at the end. Here, at Holy Cross, with four manuals, and lots of registration possibilities, carefully and brilliantly exploited, and no space between the variations, there were only a few signs of mirth that could be heard near where I was sitting. I was in full control! Then followed the Buxtehude Praeludium in D Minor, VuxWV 140.
The choir came forward once again for three passionate and passionately-sung works of Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599). First, Ave Virgo sanctissima (SSATB), conducted by Edith Ho. Then Mark Dwyer, long-time assistant at The Advent, conducted three sections of Missa "De la Batalla escoutez," also SSATB, beginning with the Sanctus and Benedictus, followed by Agnus Dei 1, this followed by the SSAATTBB final Agnus Dei. I love these thick-textured works, certainly when sung as beautifully as was the case here. One more SSAATTBB Guerrero work, a Regina Coeli, was conducted by Edith Ho.
What followed was simply labelled "Special Presentation" in the program. What it turned out to be was the awarding by Boston Conservatory of Music of an honorary doctorate to Marie Claire Alain. Jim Christie (an Alain student), in a warm, wonderful, gracious and witty speech, spoke of Marie Claire's amazing accomplishments - the huge number of recordings, of concerts played throughout the world, and of her immense influence on organists everywhere. Then, with other members of the conservatory faculty and administration, a hood was placed over her shoulders, and we were graced with a short and sweet speech of thanks, obviously heart-felt. Too immense applause and a standing ovation, Madame Alain returned to her seat. In the west gallery, the totally brilliant Paramount Brass played Canzon ad imitationem Bergamasca of Samuel Scheidt, as the long procession moved out of the chapel.
I hope I have conveyed some of the excitement and beauty of this opening event of the convention. It was hot as Hell itself (I think) in the chapel, which caused those who arrived a bit early to enjoy an unscheduled prelude, the tuning of reeds! But thoughts of the heat moved far into the background in the beauty this event. All hats off to James David Christie, Edith Ho and Mark Dwyer and the Church of the Advent Choir, The Paramount Brass, Taylor and Boody, and Holy Cross College for its wisdom in creating a wonderful building, commissioning a superb instrument, and then supporting a musician and program to go with it.
The Worcester chapter has worked very hard on this convention - the publicity has been magnificent, going back at least a year, and longer - and I have no doubt of how they feel at seeing this chapel packed with organists from all over the region, and from other parts of the country as well. I know list member Will Scarboro made the trip all the way from Florida. So, there you have it - a great beginning!
Mander Organs, Ltd. www.mander-organs.com
The pressure of work kept me from attending any of the six possible workshops this morning, so I cannot report even on the two I might have attended. Possibly others on the list might be able to comment on those. After lunch at the hotel, we were all bussed to Pakachoag Church (UCC), where, for the first time, I heard Katharine Pardee play, and also heard my first Dobson organ. I have heard lots of good things about both. Perhaps I can offer here an Internet scoop - Katharine has been appointed as interim Professor of Organ at Eastman School for next year, good news for her and for Eastman.
The program: Bach - Prelude & Fugue in G. This is BWV 550, not the more familiar G Major that begins with the upward arpeggio, which I think is called 541? Anyway, this G Major is a wonderfully intricate work with a dancing fugue, a work that Barbara Owen (sitting next to me) and I agreed was on our list of "pieces we used to play." My list might be longer than hers. This was followed by the double pedal "Wir glauben," a piece one describes as luminous, I think - played so gently and wonderfully. Here followed the Mendelssohn 4th Sonata, in a really bravura performance. This was followed by what has to be seen as a great event, the unveiling of a wonderful new work commissioned by the Worcester Chapter, with help from a Boston Chapter AGO Special Projects Advisory Committee. Les Tres Riches Heures (sorry the Internet will not support accents) by Marjorie Merryman (b. 1951) is inspired by the Book of Hours (the liturgical monastic "offices") of Jean, Duc de Berry, with miniature paintings by master Flemish./German artists of the 15th century. The six movements are entitled: 1.Procession, 2. Dialogues, 3. Cycle of the Year, 4. Rebellion, 5. De Profundis, and 6. Celebrations. I don't want to take bandwidth here, but if people are interested, I will gladly copy the very fine notes about this work that describe both the paintings and the nature of the music inspired by each one. Marjorie Merryman was present at the performance, and was acknowledged by Katharine, and roundly cheered by the audience. The program finished with a brilliant performance of the Dupre G Minor Prelude and Fugue. The Dobson organ is great to see and great to hear. It is in a room that, while acoustically clear, could not be described as live. The organ is a perfect fit, unforced but ample, with well developed choruses with cohesive mixtures that top each chorus without shrillness of any kind. If anything, the instrument might perhaps be a tad too discreet. The casework is wonderfully made, and the attached console truly gorgeous. The presence of Mr. Dobson was acknowledged by Katharine at the end, and the audience made its appreciation clear.
Then it was on the bus, and down the big hill to Holy Cross College chapel once again. James David Christie was scheduled to present a workshop about performing early music. We discovered instead that Marie Claire was at the console in the gallery ready to give a masterclass on the music of Buxtehude. Jim had left for the airport only a short while before, in order to arrive in Germany just barely in time for a competition at which he is to be a judge. With the gallery already full of people by the time I arrived, it was not possible to sit up there and see anything, so I and the busload I came with determined that it was best and coolest to sit downstairs. Marie Claire was fitted with a microphone, with which we could hear most of her comments. There were three student performers, and I cannot say who they were, but they played well indeed, and Marie Claire's comments concerned matters of articulation, rubato, and the presence of many wrong or questionable notes in the various Buxtehude editions, given the lack of contemporary scores, and the Tabulature origins of the editions that we do have. It was just tremendously pleasant to sit down in the chapel and hear this wonderful music on a grand organ. A storm was brewing, and there were delicious moments at which breezes flowed down the nave from the west doors.
Back on the bus, to the beautiful St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church downtown. Herein hangs an incredibly inspiring tale which I believe bears telling, so here goes, quoting from the notes in our convention booklet: "The present church was built in 1926 . . . . The stained glass windows date from 1928, and are by the Von Grichten Studios of Munich, Germany. The Casavant . . . pipe organ was dedicated in 1928 . . . This church was declared closed in 1992 by the previous Bishop . . . The parishioners protested the closing. At that time, the church had 750 families, and no valid reasons were given for the closing. The parishioners formed the Committee To Save St. Joseph Church, and occupied the building for 13 months, 24 hours a day, to prevent anything from happening to it. . . . The case went to the State Superior Court and then to the Supreme Court of the U. S. Parishioners fulfilled their Mass obligations at area churches, and held their own 'dry' Masses at St. Joseph's, with a large amount of support from both local and national levels . . . They were evicted from the church by police in June of 1993, and proceeded to continue their Rosaries and services outside the church on the sidwalk, and in the winter, at the Covenant Methodist Church across the street, and monitoring outside the building daily from about 6 a.m. to Midnight. In the mean time, the Bishop retired and new Bishop Daniel Reilly . . . . visited the church during a winter blizzard in February of 1995, saw its beauty and heard the organ, and began communication between the Parish Committee and the Diocese . . . the church was declared reopened, with the first official Mass held in February of 1996." I can tell you that this is a building worthy of all of this persistence and care, and the three-manual instrument of only 29 ranks packs a great deal of variety and lots of power for its small size. We were at St. Joseph's for "A Celebration of Psalms." The service began with Kenneth Grinnell playing the Franck Fantasy in A, a perfect work to show the beauty and power of the instrument. We then heard a "choral salutation," a setting of Psalm 150 by the 18th century John Travers, sung by Youth Pro Musica, normally conducted by Hazel Somerville, but today conducted by her husband, Murray Somerville. Hazel had fallen and broken an arm, and is to have surgery tomorrow (Tuesday), if I heard the announcement correctly. The choir, possibly effected by this turn of events, was not in top form, unable to judge the great space and respond to it. There were intonation problems as well. They made up for it later. Here followed the processional hymn, tune Old 124th, with a text of F. Pratt Green. We were allowed verses 2 and 3 in harmony. After the RSCM "saints and angels" collect, we heard a very fine Convention Choir conducted by Michelle Graveline, in a splendid setting of Psalm 23 by Gwyneth Walker (b. 1947), one of several works commissioned by this convention! E.C. Schirmer publishes it. After a very vigorous homily concerning the Psalms, we sang a Timothy Dudley-Smith hymn, O God whose thoughts are not as ours, to a good tune, Frederiksted, by Henry Hokans, organist for many ears at All Saint's Church, Worcester. After spoken prayers, with a good sung response by Christopher Walker, we heard a setting of Psalm 111 by Richard Proulx, with an accompaniment of Handbells and a Triangle. This was sung really well by Youth Pro Musica, with Murray Somerville again conducting. The next item in the bulletin was the passing of the peace, but the organist immediately began to play through the next hymn, Charles Wesley to Darwall's 148th, surely on everyone's list of favorite tunes, so during the playthrough, we all did all the greeting we could, before launching into the hymn, with no harmony supplied, sadly. Kenneth Grinnell then treated us to a fun toccata by Albert Renaud (1855-1924). Back to the hotel for dinner.
Many on these lists will have known Stephen Long. I got to know him not long before he left Worcester for the Northwest, where he died a few years later. He spent about 17 years at Trinity Lutheran Church here. The circumstance of our becoming acquainted was rather bizarre. There was a demented man in New Jersey who, sometime before 1990, took up the hobby of phoning organists and others who advertised in The American Organist Magazine. His calls were essentially obscene in nature, and on occasion, he branched out by also phoning the churches where organists were employed. We believed at the time that he worked for a phone company. He made a huge number of long-distance calls, but he also knew how to activate one's call-forwarding, and was able to thus intercept calls. That gives you enough of an idea. I was on the list, and I learned that Stephen was also on it, and so I phoned him one day to tell him some things I had learned about this guy, and some advice that law enforcement people on the case were offering. We thus became friends, for which I thank the telephone madman, who eventually got put away somewhere, with, hopefully, no phone in sight. So it was nice to be in the church where Stephen worked for so many years, but also to see on the bottom of the page of Marie-Claire Alain's program, an advert in his memory.
The program: A de Grigny organ Mass, with five movements typical of the genre. A Balbastre Noel, ou s'en vont ces gais bergers? The Bach Piece d'orgue, with wonderful ornamentation in the big polyphonic section. Three Bach settings of Allein Gott from the Leipzig Chorales. Bach P & F in C Major (9/8)
All of the above were played with clarity, subtlety, perfect control, well-thought out registrations - just great performances all. Then, the special treat of hearing her play the Postlude pour l'office de Complies, and the Deuxieme Fantaisie by her brother. The printed program closed with the first American performance of a Final in F Minor by her father, Albert Alain (1880-1971). But such was the commotion after the Toccata that we earned an encore, which I am told was a (rather Vierne-like) scherzo also by Albert Alain. Thank you Worcester chapter for this and many other blessings.
The organ is Noack Opus 40 of 1968. This is a gutsy three-manual instrument of 41 stops, and it is just fine for everything it had to do tonight, including the mystical works of Jehan Alain, despite its unequal temperament. This event was perhaps also a rehearsal for the afterlife - I don't know when I have been hotter in my life!
Mander Organs, Ltd. www.mander-organs.com
The first musical event of this day for me, I having worked in the hotel while the workshops were going on, was just one more amazing event organized by Astonishing Worcester Team, Inc. It would be off topic to this list to discuss the history of Worcester's Mechanics Hall, other than to say that in 1977, this truly glorious hall reopened after a meticulous restoration. At that point, an earlier Worcester Team, perhaps equally astonishing, from the Worcester AGO Chapter, with the late Stephen Long cracking the whip, did what it took to persuade whomever had to be persuaded that the 1864 E. & G. G. Hook instrument should be restored, which meant faithfully restoring also the original mechanical action, which had been electrocuted in 1923. Anyone who has been through a major organ project knows about the frustrations that are inevitable, but these people were dealing with government bodies, presumably, which doubles the equation, at the least. They fought the good fight, and perhaps it has never been clearer than on this day, that the battle was well worth it.
This event was like a "pops concert," complete with lunch, which we picked up in brown bags on the way in, and ate at the round tables placed around the room. Richard Jones, who managed this hall for a lot of years, and whom I remember well from previous visits, was invited to return to MC what was labelled as "Organ Plus: A Concert of Music for Organ and Instruments." Richard spoke of difficulties at the time of the original installation of the organ, and the fact that the architect and committee in the 1860s conspired to push the organ rather far back in in chamber, over Mr. Hook's strong objections, thereby robbing it of the commanding presence an organ this size should enjoy. One has to adjust expectations in listening to the instrument, but that is not too great a problem, in the very fine and sensitive acoustic, and Richard wisely pointed out that on this day, the organ was perhaps doing what it does best, playing with other instruments. The meticulous restoration, including a "re-trackerizing" with the addition of a Barker machine, was undertaken by Fritz Noack, and completed in 1982. I remember being aware at the time of the amount of thought and research that went into that project. Well, here is what we heard, needing very little comment. You can tell from just reading it how brilliant was this program in its conception and organization.
. . . Septimi Tempi (1995), a great, upbeat, bit of perpetual motion, played
by Catherine Rodland, with the Paramount Brass. Mr. Dinda was in attendance.
Roger Bourland . . . Cantilena (1986), a gorgeous partnership between organ and flute, played by Fenwick Smith (BSO) and Peter Sykes.
Calvin Hampton . . . . Variations on Amazing Grace (1983), played by Robert Sheena, English Horn and Mark Steinbach, Organ.
Gardner Read . . . . from Sinfonia da Chiesa, Opus 61b (1972), Movement 3, Ricercare, The Paramount Brass and Catherine Rodland, Organ
Chris DeBlasio . . . . God is Our Righteousness (published posthumously in 1997) played by Peter Clemente, Guitar and Peter Sykes, Organ.
Only a most skillful composer could have made this improbable combination work, and work it does. Peter Clemente used a gentle bit of amplification, but it was just a touch, and sounded o.k. Other works on today's program might well be available on recordings, but I can speak only for one for which I attended the recording session, including both "God is Our Righteousness" and the Amazing Grace variations, performed, in both cases, by the players for whom they were written. The Hampton was written for Harry Huff and Thomas Stacey, English Horn (NYPhil.), and the DeBlasio also for Harry Huff, and the Guitarist Nicholas Goluses, both on a 1994 BMG Catalyst recording called Memento Bittersweet, No. 09026-61979-2.
Daniel Pinkham . . . . Odes (1998): 1. Ode to the vigil at twilight, 2. Ode to the stillness of the night, 3. Ode to the dawning of the new day. FIRST PERFORMANCE, "composed in honor of Marie-Claire Alain, on the occasion of the Region 1 Convention of the American Guild of Organists, Worcester, Massachusetts, June 1999." The composer and the dedicatee were in attendance. This wonderful new work was played by Robert Sheena, English Horn, and Mark Steinbach, Organ.
Carlyle Sharpe . . . . Confitemini Domino (1997), played by The Paramount Brass, with Catherine Rodland, Organ. This work was commissioned for last summer's AGO National Convention in Denver.
It is daunting to think of the amount of rehearsal time that went into all of today's ensemble performances. All the performances were absolutely first rate. Peter Sykes, whom I have heard with pleasure many times, and Catherine Rodland and Mark Steinbach, whom I have never heard, all bring great honor to our profession. The Paramount Brass, whom we heard in two programs in this convention, are really wonderful, without any of the "shtick" so much an often-distracting part of performances by some brass groups, who seem not to have confidence in the music and playing to speak for themselves. Try www.paramountbrass.com, if you are interested. Robert Sheena and Peter Clemente gave superb performances, and the organ was perfect and beautiful to hear in its supporting role.
We were bussed to Assumption College, and then I attended my first workshop!! There has been much discussion on the American Pipe Organ lists on the Internet about popular music vs. "traditional" music in church, and while I, in the church I serve, am unlikely to ever face any uncertainty in this matter, the whole subject does, nonetheless, interest me. The topic of the workshop was "Pop Culture." Moderator was the witty and wonderful Max Miller, who writes the "Dear Uncle Max" column in TAO. Panelists were David Spicer, Minister of Music at First Church of Christ in Wethersfield, CT, and John Harutunian, pianist, composer, educator, and a "liturgical Evangelical Orthodox born-again sacramental Christian - not necessarily in that order." We neither solved problems nor settled anything, but the moderator, panelists, and many people from the floor had tales to tell, not in the spirit of confrontation, not of bad experiences, but rather of good ones in which understandings were reached, honest attempts were made, problems were resolved, tensions eased - it was a good and civil clearing of the air. I personally found it refreshing, and wish there were space here, had I the patience, to report each thing that was said.
The next event, in the nearby very attractive chapel, had double meaning for me. First, I was hearing for the first time an organ at least partly the work of Stephen Russell, who was an organ student of mine in the early 60s. Secondly, I was about to hear a recital by Fred Teardo, who won first place in the Regional Competition the day before the convention began, and whose musical development I have watched with interest for some time, having met him at the Schweitzer Competition, in which he came in third. I was later one of three judges in the Waterbury and New Haven chapter competition, at which we unanimously awarded Fred first prize, which is how he got to Worcester. He's a fine young man with a penchant for hard work and a big talent without any accompanying huge ego.
Fantasy and Fugue in C Minor, BWV 537 -
Bach >From Windows of Comfort, Organbook I, "...beside the still waters." (Chaconne),
Dan Locklair. Benedictus -
Reger Final from Symphony III - Vierne
The Bach got off to a very slightly rocky start, with a few minor slips here and there. It is *not possible* to practice how it is going to feel to play in front of about 350 organists from all over the region, the Executive Director of the national AGO, three past national presidents, your teacher, your parents, the organbuilder, and a bunch of friends - all quite close behind you, some looking at you from the side. You cannot know what that feels like until you begin. So I would guess the little slips, and they were little, at the beginning, were just a settling of the nerves, proof being that once the Fugue began, Fred was completely in the music, and he never left it from that point on. The Fugue was excellent, with a lovely understanding of the tensions and releases therein, and the ability to respond to them. Both the Locklair and Reger were filled with atmosphere and beauty, the buildup in the Reger being wonderfully wrought, controlled but powerful. Fred chose to play the Vierne from memory, to me a very wise choice. I do believe one never plays better than when playing from memory, as long as the memory is secure, and secure it was. This was a powerful and fully mature performance of this wonderful work, and the audience rose to its feet cheering, making me wonder if this was Fred's first standing ovation - first of many, no doubt. We sang three stanzas of Amazing Grace. A hymn accompaniment was one of the competition requirements, and Fred decided to close the recital with it. We raised the roof, helped by a very sturdy accompaniment. Fred is off to Eastman in the fall, where he will study with David Higgs, but he is already at it, in a way, having been given a list of three major works to learn during the rest of the summer, and a list of theory books to work at as well. I must not fail to mention Fred's teacher, Stephen Roberts, a regular PipOrg-L contributor, particularly in that, from my excellent vantage point, I could tell that while Fred was on the bench, Stephen was working every bit as hard as he was. By the way, I really did like this organ. I had been told that it was excessively loud. In the full chapel, it was a perfect fit. Obviously, when the congregation is small, one must know how to register to not overpower, when a builder has scaled and finished for sufficient power in a more-or-less full room.
The recital was followed by the regional AGO meeting, well organized and led by Victoria Wagner, who introduced Executive Director James Thomashower, who later introduced Anthony Thurman, Director of Development and Communications. I was tremendously impressed with what was said and how it was said. Our presence at this convention says we do care about those things for which the Guild stands, so I think most came away from the meeting feeling that the organization is in very good hands indeed. At meeting's end, the convention committee of the Worcester Chapter, led by Lois Toeppner, was introduced, and cheered enthusiastically. Their achievement deserves the highest praise, and I hope, in a final posting, to talk about some of the things that made this gathering really special for all of us who attended. Finally, music was passed out by Harold Stover, and we all, reading brilliantly, sang a bit of Strauss (Richard, that is), with the words: "A. G. O., Two Thousand One! in Portland Maine, Region One Convention, July Eight to Eleven." Also sprach Zarathustra, 2001, indeed!! There's nothing like a good jingle. We will remember well.
After dinner at the hotel, we were bussed to First Baptist Church for the final "phenomenon" of the convention, and I chose the word wisely, I believe. If you have attended a Joyce Jones recital, you know that. This was my first. It has to be said that there are different paths to the pinnacles of the musical experience. James David Christie playing Buxtehude on the great Taylor & Boody organ at Holy Cross is one that we followed on the opening night of the convention. Thomas Murray led us up by another way, with his wonderfully refined playing of Elgar, amongst other music, on a G. Donald Harrison AEolian-Skinner organ. On Wednesday night, we experienced a far more visceral approach to the top. The first three pieces listed in the program were the Final from the Widor 8th Symphony, the big Bach D Major P & F, and the Mozart K608 Fantasy. I confess I wondered why are we doing this. I did not come all this way to hear yet another performance of these wonderful but over-exposed works - unless there was some new light to be shed - some new approach to the music. Well, quite honestly, there was not, in my opinion, any new light, but there were plenty in the church, I suspect, for whom these works are still new. One of the little Haydn clock pieces (Coffee Klatch) was added before the Mozart. Ms Jones was somehow not at ease at this point. She seemed disoriented, and there were what I am told were uncharacteristic slips and wrong notes here and there. By the way, the entire program was played from memory. I have to say I was less kindly disposed to these first half performances partly because of the very shrill and, to me, unpleasant, instrument. A friend on the bus had said he was looking forward to seeing if there was still any paint on the walls on this church which he had visited in the past. He thought the sound of the organ might be causing excessive peeling. I should say so, but there is no blame to be assigned here - the instrument is from and of the 60s, and has been worked on by many hands. Lately, Stephen Russell has it in his care, and may be allowed to tame it a bit, and he has built and installed a really exquisite new console.
The second half began on a solid footing. Ms Jones said that after learning the Dupre Crucifixion from the Passion Symphony, it was a long time before she felt ready to play it - about 14 years, in fact. It was clear she was now ready. It was a tour de force - and this was followed by the Variations on a Noel, again a powerful and exciting show. Then, the lovely Twilight at Fiesole, of Seth Bingham. At this point in the printed program, and the "encore section," we began our ascent to the pinnacle by the path of transcendant virtuosity, yet another way, starting with the Sowerby Pageant, taken at a speed that made no allowances for the almost unbelievable feats of pedal dexterity required. It really was a jaw-dropping sort of show. The first encore was a bit relaxing. Ms. Jones had explained that for the NY National Convention, she had programmed the Seth Bingham piece, having been sent a specification of the organ that included a Harp. It turned out that the Harp was no longer there, so she instead improvised a piece based on The Dragonfly. She later wrote down the improvisation, and that was our first encore, very sweet and charming, with, as it turned out, lots of harp, chimes, and occasonal short bursts on the cymbelstern. Then, having had a bit of a rest, she was ready for stronger stuff, and the second encore was a transcription of the Prokofiev Toccata, Opus 11, in the transcription by Wolfgang Meier - breathtaking. Before the first encore, she had said to the cheering audience, "I know what you want, but you are not going to get it." Our thoughts ran to Widor and various other popular favorites. At this point, she said, "o.k., here it is." "It" was the Bum of the Flightlebee (so sorry!), in the version for pedal - there is an arrangement for the fast bits in the manuals. This was nothing less than astonishing, so clear and powerful is her pedalling, with her seemingly exerting no effort whatever. Wow! There was a third whooping and whistling standing ovulation, and we finally got back on the cool busses for a reception at the hotel sponsored by Russell and Company, and Southfield Organ Builders. For many, this was the time for a final goodbye. About 60 or so, including me, had signed up for one of Judy Ollikkala's justly famous Organ Crawls. In addition to seeing some interesting churches, organs, and some of the surrounding countryside, Judy had made arrangments for good players to present a short recital in each place, including the singing of a hymn. This turned out to be a very fine day, and I will hope to report on that in the next day or two, and I also want to write a little wrap-up article containing some observations that do not fit within the reviews of each day.
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