PipeChat Digest #3243 - Tuesday, November 19, 2002
Adventures with Felix Hell Part 1 (long and x posted)
  by "Mike Gettelman" <mike3247@earthlink.net>

(back) Subject: Adventures with Felix Hell Part 1 (long and x posted) From: "Mike Gettelman" <mike3247@earthlink.net> Date: Tue, 19 Nov 2002 03:54:03 -0500   Greetings Everyone, Due to a sudden change of plans, I did not make the trip to Atlanta for the dedication of the new Mander Organ at Peachtree Methodist. As a result, I was able to adjust quickly, and do a long distance organ crawl that followed Felix Hell across the Northeast, from Columbus Ohio to Newark New Jersey, with a stop in Buffalo along the way. This was a tremendous opportunity to experience the virtuoso performance of Felix on 3 very different instruments in 3 unique acoustic environments. It was amazing to hear the adjustments he made in tempos, registrations, and techniques to assure that each instrument put its best foot forward. Some of you know that I studied trumpet in my youth, so I often compare the complexity of organ performance to the relative simplicity of my own instrument. Where my own performance was dedicated to a relatively fixed set of rules and parameters, an organist must approach each instrument and room with a completely different set of concerns, and do it with excruciatingly small amounts of rehearsal. Felix has become an absolute master of these adjustments while continuing his high standard of musicality and technique. Where a trumpet player plays with singular attention to the one voice he is responsible for, an organist has an entire forest of voices for which he is performer and conductor all wrapped together. I find this ability truly astounding, and salute all organists for their courage to accept this task. I imagine being an organist is a very satisfying adventure when things come together just right, but I am just as satisfied to be a listener, reaping all the benefits without having to do the mental gymnastics of the performer. Felix definitely makes it well worth the small price of admission. I am going to break my report into 3 posts because each venue was so entirely unique and my impressions much too vivid to be suppressed for concern of length, so thanks in advance for your indulgence. I also offer the firm disclaimer that I am not an organist, nor have I been a practicing musician for many years. My perspective is purely as a listener, and I have actually only just caught the organ fever within the past several years. At age 52, I am trying to make up for lost time, so I study with fervor, attend all the organ events I can afford, and read these lists with daily eagerness. It's the best I can do to feed the joy that organs, performers and builders provide me. It's a love and a passion that goes far beyond explanation, so I no longer try. I'm sure many of you feel the same.   Felix Hell at First Congregational Church UCC Columbus, Ohio November 10th 2002   At 73 ranks, 47 stops, over 3 manuals, the Beckerath here is not a small organ, but it is completely stuffed into its own self contained case and installed up in the rear gallery of this rather square dimensioned room. The case is quite angular and of a quite red stained wood that contrasts heavily with the very dark color of the rest of the rooms wood. This gives it a rather alien appearance indicating that it is transplanted or that it might be removed eventually. Armed with the knowledge that another organ, a Kimball, is in the process of restoration, and resides behind the Beckerath at present, one gets the impression that this might just be an interim instrument. The high vaulted timber framed ceiling seems to give promise of a lively acoustic, but in practice, it turns out to be rather dry. The specification can be viewed on Beckerath's website at the following URL:   http://www.beckerath.com/en/background/columbus.html (if the URL doesn't work for you, simply work your way into the site with a Google search)   My first impression was that the organ lacked bass foundation, and indeed 16' is the lowest registration. Having been exposed to Felix's performance on 4 Casavant organs in Hamilton Ontario this Summer, I knew he could extract the best the organ had to offer with very thoughtful registration, and I wasn't disappointed in Columbus. He selected repertoire that would sound terrific within the bounds the instrument imposed even though there were no building shaking 32s. An interesting challenge that Felix had to work around this day was the weather. We were in the midst of a tremendous storm that made it seem that God wished to participate in ensemble with Felix. A brilliant light show of lightning lit up the stained glass windows, and the thunder accompaniment seemed to indicate that God also thought there should be more bass. At times the heavy rain and hail on the roof even suggested there should be some percussion stops. Maybe George Wright had God's ear this day. In any event, it got so bad at one point that Felix decided to suspend his performance for 15 minutes during the second half of the concert, and even though about reorganizing the program to delay some of the softer selections until the rain slacked off. As it turned out, the 15 minute break was enough to allow the return to the original order, and was a very good decision. This shows how flexible Felix can be, and indicates a professional wisdom beyond his years.   Here is the program on this day:   Prelude in E Major Vincent Lubeck   The rest of the first half of the concert was Johann Sebastian Bach Choral Prelude: (BMV 542) Fantasie and Fugue in G Minor (BMV 525) Sonata No. 1 in E Flat Major (BMV 542) Allegro moderato Adagio Allegro Prelude and Fugue in D Major (BMV 532)   Intermission   Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 37 C=E9sar Franck Allegro moderato e serioso Adagio Andante recitativio Allegro assai vivace Toccata: "Schlafes Bruder" (brother of sleep) Enjott Schneider Abendfriede (evening peace), Op. 156 Josef Gabriel Rheinberger Adagio (consolation) Franz Liszt Prelude and Fugue on B-A-C-H Franz Liszt   We also enjoyed the Widor Toccata as an encore. You can see the careful selection of program that allowed us to hear some of the more reflective and solemn literature that this organ does so well. It also gave me the opportunity to hear some things for the first time, so I appreciate the education. As the program progressed, I grew fonder of this instrument, particularly the clear articulation the tracker action allows. I was to learn more about this in Buffalo at Slee Hall the following week. After the concert I asked Felix if tracker action wears him down at all, particularly in pieces like the Widor where the instrument is coupled down, and he indicated it is not a problem for him as long as he gets to practice on the instrument to determine what touch in needed. He also said the Widor gives him a bit of trouble at the speed he plays it at, but my ears certainly didn't reveal that. He obviously knows the limits and stays just this side of the edge. He is a very clever performer indeed.   I also had the chance to talk with Hans Hell after the concert and was treated most graciously as usual. When I told him was planning to attend Felix's concerts in Buffalo and in Newark, he was very delighted. It gives one strong motivation to get thyself to as many Felix Hell concerts as one can when one knows that these 2 wonderful people will always greet you with joy, and be honored by your presence. I think the accessibility of these 2 artists. And yes, I think Hans is an important part of Felix's art, and feels the music just as strongly, though he modestly denies his own artistic musicianship. His assistance with registration and page turning is obviously a great help to Felix, and he seems to find great joy in it. I suppose the only danger is Hans may eventually explode with all the pride he must feel for the absolute marvel that is his son. I must admit that I have vicariously been made to feel the same. It may seem that us Felix groupies are a bit wearisome at times, but the genuine affection we feel for this young man and his father causes us to anticipate each Felix Hell concert with heartfelt enthusiasm. To those that find me boring, delete away with my blessing. But to those who share my enthusiasm, I invite you to enjoy parts 2 and 3 to be posted as time permits.   Thanks for reading Mike Gettelman