PipeChat Digest #2715 - Tuesday, February 19, 2002
 
Need advice before organ committee meets
  by "Charles Peery" <cepeery@earthlink.net>
Marie-Claire Alain at St. Ignatius, NY 2/17/02
  by "Malcolm Wechsler" <manderusa@earthlink.net>
St Mary's RC, Wellington, NZ
  by "Ross & Lynda Wards" <TheShieling@xtra.co.nz>
 

(back) Subject: Need advice before organ committee meets From: "Charles Peery" <cepeery@earthlink.net> Date: Tue, 19 Feb 2002 19:11:56 -0500   Background: Our 1960 2 manual (large company builder, rather stock instrument, suburban church) needs work. Releathering, at the very least. (the swell shades no longer completely close because the leather pouches are leaking air, there is a rip in the swell-side pedal reservoir which is now so large that parts of the swell aren't getting enough air to play reliably in tune.) Converting to solid state would be next, new console, etc. Finally, there has been talk of expanding to three manuals by hanging a new exposed Great on the front Altar wall. Not in cabinets, exposed, there isn't room for much else, and not even enough ceiling height for a 16' anything on the Great. The Sw and Gt are presently in smallish facing chambers, both under expression, but there isn't room for much added pipework in those chambers. Churches in our city have recently set a precedent for simply buying a WHOLE NEW INSTRUMENT under conditions like these.   I'm really not interested in advice what to do about the organ, artistically, because I have that settled in my mind after much research and some very apt advice from people on this list. I mean, if somebody would tell me what the parameters are, I could propose a solution with some integrity. But how do we arrive at those parameters?   Question: Politically, what approach works best? Do we blindly "ask for the moon" by simply insisting on the largest, most beautifully built instrument that'll fit the building and damn the financial torpedos? Sometimes I've seen peoples' giving patterns rise to meet an exciting project. Or do we try to assess financial realities first? The economy being what it is, won't people automatically whine "Oh, we can't afford this, we can't do that?" Do we decide what's reasonable and then set the bar a little higher to stretch things? Do we expect the money for the organ to be raised completely separately from the church budget itself? (This bothers me, frankly, although churches around us have done so. I always think that, in our current situation, with a fine choir, paid soloists, major works, etc., that the organ is as much a required feature of the whole church as, say, the roof and the heating/AC. If things get to such a point that a new roof is needed, the Trustees budget for a new roof, and everybody shares in the cost. They don't "fund-raise" for a new roof. Why make the organ such a satellite project?)   I'm concerned about setting this whole thing up so that it seems reasonable and supportable. Rumor has it that a church near us bought about a $350,000 instrument (2-manual, beautiful workmanship!) and then set about to raise the money. They raised about a third of it, then took the rest out of their endowment funds, creating a political firestorm in the church.   Does anyone have experience with this sort of political process?   Chuck Peery Cincinnati            
(back) Subject: Marie-Claire Alain at St. Ignatius, NY 2/17/02 From: "Malcolm Wechsler" <manderusa@earthlink.net> Date: Tue, 19 Feb 2002 19:16:35 -0500   Dear Friends and Listpersons,   I once had a brief encounter with a science fiction world in which the organist was king (accent on the fiction, to be sure!). It was Marcel Dupre's last recital at St. Thomas' Church, Fifth Avenue, and I am sure someone will know that date. I believe it had to be the early to mid 60s. The church was packed, and this was in the bad old days before the acoustical renovation, so you can imagine what it was like. However, I was up in the choir, on the south side, having perhaps been very early for a change, and could see the great man and hear quite well. I was, however, much too inexperienced to fully understand the significance of what I was hearing. I do remember, however, the moment, about half way through the recital, when Dupre began a very soft piece, which the ushers in their splendid tails assumed must be the cue to take the collection. (This really WAS the bad old days!) They had made it all the way up to the east end, ready to begin their sweep westward to fill their great plates, when someone got to them and explained that this was not the moment. Back they went, looking both sheepish and a bit uncomprehending. Dupre played on. When the concert was over, and this is where the science fiction comes in, I walked down Fifth Avenue and over to Grand Central Terminal to catch my train, hearing people all around me speaking about the concert. Grand Central, at that late hour, was seemingly also full of organ enthusiasts, as was the train to Connecticut. How rare it is to experience such a "buzz" about an organ recital, involving so many people.   Move forward a few years, and again, I am sorry I can't say just when it was. Marie-Claire Alain was being honored by the New York AGO as Performer of the Year, and part of the "prize" was a recital at St. Thomas's, still in the bad old acoustical days. I was still quite unsophisticated about what I was to think about certain things, and to be sure, the whole organ world was pretty fractured and uncertain itself, or actually, it was very certain of itself, but there were as many certainties as there were organists! This time, I was out in the nave, and realized that something amazing was happening. Certain of the members of the august body of organists in the nave were laughing, at first covertly, and later, more openly. There were some barely suppressed giggles at particular points during the recital. A whole row of people actually walked out in the middle of a piece. It would be wrong to suggest that the number of the ridiculing ones was great, but it was sufficient in numbers and visible enough to disrupt things to a notable extent at points during the recital.   Perhaps there is someone reading this who might be able to explain in detail what was going on way back then, and what the issues were. Yesterday, Sunday, February 17, 2002, at 4 p.m. in the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, Manhattan, it was demonstrated that whatever the old issues were, they have long since been resolved, and that that very buzz that had attended the Dupre event all those years ago was apparent again on this occasion. Marie-Claire Alain was in recital, and it was a great Love Feast, and I do believe almost every organist in town and in the surrounding area was there. The place was packed. There was a strong feeling this time, if I may project on others what I was feeling, that we were in the presence of an inheritor of the whole history of, as well as the complete present of, the great traditions of Organ performance in France. At the age of 75, she is a master in complete control of all of this great tradition, sitting at the keyboard totally at ease and sure. What T. Scott Burnham, once editor of the old American Organist Magazine, had referred to as in the category of "resurrected relics" and "graveyard gems," began the program, Pange Lingua of Nicolas de Grigny (1672-1703), whose complete organ compositions were once copied out by J. S. Bach for his own edification and performance. This is such wonderful stuff, and given an instrument that had this style of composition among others in mind at its conception, and an acoustic to further enhance the effect, the three movements played were just quietly spectacular, if you can imagine someone using that word to describe de Grigny. The sturdy statement of the Plain Chant, the 5 voice Fugue with its incredibly convoluted subject, and the lyrical Recit, using one of several voluptuous Cornet possibilities, smoothly accompanied - really richly satisfying. At this point in the proceedings, I was struck not for the first time this day, by the infamous Norwalk Virus, rampant throughout the Northeast, and I had to absent myself from the concert for a time, thus missing Dialogue in C Major of Marchand and three Bach settings of Allein Gott. I returned in time for a wonderfully serene and solid performance of the 9/8 Prelude & Fugue in C of Bach, with a pleasantly pungent registration, and a grand and powerful finish for the Fugue. Intermission chatter is fun when everyone is happy, so there was quite a sociable glow. I had a chance to talk with old friends, and also four of the excellent Juilliard organ students I had heard at Tully on the Friday, in order of appearance, David Enlow, Patrick Kabanda, Cameron Carpenter, and then, ex officio, Andrew Henderson, Assistant Organist at St. Ignatius, who was doing front-of-house work, minding the door. I suspect the other two students I heard were around somewhere.   Now, take one vivacious, elegant lady of 75 years, who has known all the Parisian (and other French) organ lofts all her life, and knows those who now occupy them and a long list of those who did in the past, and has played all the repertoire and heard it played for many years, and you have to anticipate with particular pleasure a performance of a much loved Franck work by someone who has drunk at this well for so long. It was Prelude, Fugue and Variation she chose, and there was a profound silence and total absorption from about 700 people. The melody of the Prelude was so limpid and lovely, the little perfect movement for the season, marked Lent (sorry!), was given a wonderful thick and reedy registration, and then came the Fugue of my confusion until I actually learned to play it - where's the downbeat was the question. And finally, the variation with the same evocative treatment of the melody while the ever-busy left hand bubbled a long.   Cleveland Kersh's excellent program notes say of Albert Alain (1880-1971), the father of Marie-Claire: "Consisting of over 450 works, his output encompasses both choral and organ literature, and surely merits revival." He was trained at the Paris Conservatoire under Guilmant and Vierne. We heard his Aria (1943), a beautiful Tierce melody accompanied by Celestes, somewhat reminiscent of Franck, followed by Toccata on Cantemus Domino. The plainsong is clearly proclaimed, and the accompaniment is at first not the familiar French toccata sort of configuration, but rather rapid conjunct running figures in both hands, eventually settling into the crashing chord sort of Toccata, and a very big ending.   How intensely moving this program must be for Marie-Claire Alain, particularly this second half with works both by her father and her older brother, Jehan whose music is known and loved throughout the world, certainly in these parts! She played next the Deuxieme Fantaisie of Jehan as I have never heard it before, boldly, rather quickly paced, with rather fuller registration than one is used to hearing. It was a different kind of "atmospheric." Next, we heard "Danse funebre pour honorer une memoire heroique," from the Trois Danses of the late 30s. (Sorry to suppress the diacritical marks, but they make trouble for some readers.) Madame Alain suggests that this work was Jehan Alain's tribute to their sister Odile who died tragically in 1937, but she also thought it might have been a response to his going off to war, and fearing for his own life. Mr. Kersh also suggests a special new meaning of this work, played here, as it was, only months after the terrible events of last September 11th.   I distinctly remember being in the Concert Hall of the old Oberlin Conservatory in the 50s, when I heard my first ever performance of Litanies. It took my breath away, and would certainly be a "Desert Island Disk" piece for me and for many organists. It is a work subject to some freedom of interpretation, and Marie-Claire Alain will, I am sure, be delighted to know that she plays it exactly as I do! Seriously .. . . this performance really answered a few questions about the work for me, and, of course, confirmed my unconditional love for it. I heard it said, once, that at a workshop, Marie-Claire had announced that even she could not play all the notes in the left hand in that place we have all struggled with over the G# Pedal Point just before the triple forte big ending begins. Well, perhaps she had to reach 75 to play them all, but play them she did. I was listening most intently. I have a few years to go! And so ended an evening of great beauty, played by one of the greats of our profession. I know she is touring around the country in the next little while, and I hope many reading this from afar will be able to experience one of her performances.   In writing about remarkable musical events that take place at St. Ignatius Loyola, I have usually failed to say how grateful I and hundreds of others are to this place. "Sacred Music in a Sacred Space," at least a decade old, is the brainchild of Director of Music Ministries Kent Tritle, whose incredible knowledge of a vast and varied body of music for all media, and the imagination and energy to put it all together in ever more interesting ways, has made possible many fabulous evenings like the one we have just experienced, along with music for chorus and orchestra, organ recitals, chamber music, a cappella choir, and the list goes on. Working with him, Associate Organist Nancianne Parrella; Assistant Director of Music, Aaron Smith; Assistant Organist, Andrew Henderson; and Associate Musicians Roger Gillen and Scott Warren. Kristen Long is the Music Administrator, and I feel after this evening the need to mention John Randolph, Organ Curator, who keeps the instrument in top shape. Some of the greatest musical experiences of my life have happened in this building in the last ten years, and I just wanted to pass that along with a thank you.   Cheers,   Malcolm Wechsler www.mander-organs.com              
(back) Subject: St Mary's RC, Wellington, NZ From: "Ross & Lynda Wards" <TheShieling@xtra.co.nz> Date: Wed, 20 Feb 2002 13:41:51 +1300   Dear List, I promised a while ago that I'd begin a series on NZ organs. I want to = begin with one of the very best, one that changed the thinking of many = organists, yet was not huge by any means. Hugh Drogemuller knows this organ from his visits home to New Zealand.   Maxwell Fernie, till he died almost three years in his late 80s, was one = of the most formidably talented musicians anyone could ever meet. Born in Wellington, he never went to university but became an excellent pianist = and a good organist while still in his teens. He served in WWII and played organs around Europe, especially Italy. He was, as well qw organist and pianist, a very fine cellist but never played in public. He had a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London and = eventually became ARAM(Hon), LRAM, ARCO, GRSM, and his favourite and most influential teacher was undoubtedly C.H.Trevor of "Progressive Organist" fame. Max played the organ at several Roman Catholic churches. By the mid-1950s he had become organist at Westminster Cathedral in = London, to George Malcolm's choir directorship. Max was married by this stage with = a family. Finally, he got fed up in the high society and what he called the = decadence of London life in Westminster: a professional choir of about 20, seemingly hundreds of gorgeously-attired prelates and other clergy, and yet only a = few in the congregation. He gave up the vast Willis and came back to NZ, to = his favourite church, St Mary of the Angels' RC in Wellington. This is a rare reinforced concrete French Gothic church with twin western towers, built = in the early 1920s. It has a phenomenal number of utterly stunning stained-glass windows from Munich, world-famous. In the gallery at the back of this 600-seat cruciform church there was a two-manual Hobday (NZ builder) of about 14 stops, dating from not long = after 1900, which had been in the previous church. A few good ranks, but mostly ho-hum. Max wasn't Organist - the parish couldn't sack incumbent Phyllis Aldridge, as she was a rattling good musician herself, but they made him choirmaster with authority over Phyllis, as Director of Music. She retired in the = early 1960s and Max took over, keeping that position till he died. In 1958 the new Geo.Croft (of Auckland, New Zealand) organ was built, absolutely in every way to Max's design. The organ cost just NZ 7,500 pounds. With a west gallery dominated by a large rose window of = exceptional glass, there was very little room for an organ at all. It was divided each side of the rose window, with the console just inside the gallery rail in the centre. 61/30 compass. The church's acoustics were stunning, as there was a concrete floor and no carpet - about 2.8 seconds redcing to about 2 seconds for a full congregation. It doesn't sound much, but gave = everything an extraordinary rich glow. The choir tradition Max created was to concentrate on 15th and 16thC polyphony - Palestrina, Victoria etc. and plainsong from the original notation. There were 7 masses a Sunday then, = and an enthusiastic amateur choir that reached to 50 members at least. They = were utterly superb, every note of every part being beautifully produced and balanced. Max got them to sing what he called Continental tone and used = the illustration of sopranos (only women and men in the choir, no kids) as oboes, contraltos as clarinets, tenors as cor anglais, and the basses as bassoons. Max had Croft make the wooden pipes in New Zealand, the Swell Cor de Nuit and the Floating Mutations were by Laukhuff, and the reeds and Principals = by Palmers of England. Max specified every detail of the pipes - mouth width, metal type and thickness, mouth height and languid shape and bevel, wind pressure, scaling, foothole size, you name it, everything, and stood over the pipes as they were voiced. When the organ was completed, he directed voicing operations from the church floor and also revoiced flutes and = reeds himself till they were just right. The scaling was aimed at being Schulze-like, big tone, massive harmonic structure in the Principals, but with an absolute clarity as well. Swell reeds to blend well but to be hair-raising as well. The action had to be electro-pneumatic, and the Swell, part of the Great and the Floating Mutations were to be on slider chests. There had to be some units, on cost and space grounds.   The scheme was then - GREAT (on 3.5" wind) 16 Grossgedackt (wood 1-12, rest Chimney Flute in metal) 8 Open Diapason (6" scale at CC) 8 Principal (about 5.5" at CC) 8 Dulciana (about 4.5" at CC) 8 Rohrgedackt (extn 16ft) 4 Octave (same scaling as Op.Diap.) 4 Rohr Flute (extn 8ft) 2 2/3 Octave Quint (same scaling as Op.Diap.) 2 Super Quint (ditto, extn 8 Principal)   SWELL (on 4.5" wind) 8 Open Diapason (c5.25" at CC) 8 Salicional (about 4" at CC) 8 Cor de Nuit (stopt metal, big scale, very low cut-up) 4 Gemshorn (big and bright, really a Geigen Principal but of tapered pipes) 2 2/3 Twelfth (big scale) 2 Fifteenth (big scale) 16 Contra Fagotto (so-labelled, but in reality a big full-length metal Double Trumpet) 8 Trompette (so-labelled, but a very big English Trumpet) 4 Clarion (another big Truumpet)   POSITIVE (Manual 1, unenclosed) 16 Grossgedackt (from Great) 8 Bourdon (upward extn of Ped.Bourdon, wood) 8 Rohrgedackt (Great unit) 4 Prestant (from Great 8ft Principal) 4 Rohr Flute (Great unit)   FLOATING MUTATIONS (separately enclosed, with octave, unison and sub couplers everywhere. These began as stopt metal flutes of biggish scale, changed to chimney flutes, and the top 3 octaves were tapered Gemshorns) (3.5" wind) all three mutations of the same scaling and power, bright but absolutely sparkly) 2 2/3 Nazard 2 Octavin 1 3/5 Tierce   PEDAL 16 Open Diapason (metal extn Great Op.Diap., though bottom 12 on only = 2.5" wind) 16 Bourdon (wood, big scale, low cut-up) 16 Grossgedackt (from Great) 10 2/3 Quint (from Grossgedackt) 8 Octave (from Op.Diap.Great) 8 Bass Flute (extn 16ft Bdn) 4 Choral Bass (from Great Principal unit) 2 Rohr Flute (from great unit)   COUPLERS heaps, everywhere.   ACCESSORIES lots of pistons and Swell Tremulant   Now this may not look much, even for 1958, but the tone was utterly phenomenal. When, for example, you used the Swell chorus at normal pitch coupled to the Great, it seemed to double the power of the Great and add a great deal more brilliance. When you added the 4' coupler, there was an unbelievable richness and power. Yet the Salicional with box closed was a mere breath. The three Trumpet ranks could be used as a "Franck Oboe" with box closed, but together and the box open became an utterly devastating = rich chorus - but no one ever said the organ was too loud. It was vast, sure, = but wonderfully musical, with nothing shrill or forced, with a glorious blend everywhere. The Mutations were not intended to be part of the Principal chorus, though the Tierce made everything sound Willis. The Pedal stops = were deep and pervading, but not boomy or sullen. The Quint 10 2/3 gave an amazing 32ft Acoustic Bass that had people shaking their heads in = amazement. The clarity of everything was unbelievable.For example, you could play a chord of CC, EE, GG, TenC, TenE, TenG and MidC on the Great Op.Diap. and everything remained quite clear with no mud, yet the sound was big and = rich like a T.C.Lewis at its very best. And again, you could use a combo like Op.Diap. on the Great with the Octave Quint, and everything was clear and did not fall apart, even for playing fugues with parts below TenC. The Mutations, in any combination, were always sparkly, piquant, colourful, delicious, yet not Willis echo flutes but big enough to use well and a = great deal. The Rohr Gedackt unit was hollow and dark, yet amazingly clear as well.   Some dozen or more organs, and that's a lot for little New Zealand, were greatly influenced by this design, but no one else even began to match the sheer quality of tone. A generation of us (I learned to play from Max) = were enthralled by Max's playing, and his musicianship in every respect. While a great recitalist, he was not the dazzling kind, and made the odd mistake = in public, even in Bach. So what? Didn't Anton Heiller also, and no one cared because of the musical abilities of the man. When organ recitals were drawing about 15 to 20 or occasionally 30 at = other and bigger instruments in Wellington, Max could fill the church with 600. = In fact he once gave a two-hour recital of pieces given only to first-year pupils - simple chorale preludes, the little Bach g minor Fugue, etc., yet the church was crammed with people.   For just 19 ranks, this had to be the best and most wonderful organ NZ has ever had for its size, and was way ahead of most in NZ of any size = whatever, even ones three times the size with genuine 32fts.   I'll continue this later, including details of a later rebuild.   Ross Wards