Well, this has been an incredible week, and you must know that we only scratched the surface of all the events and activities that were presented here in Boston at the American Guild of Organists national convention. Altogether there were 38 unique concerts, and 8 varied worship services, 140 workshops and scholarly research programs, more than 80 exhibitors, so obviously it was not possible to get to every event forcing one to pick and choose.
We were sitting next to Fred Swann and Edith Ho at the Mother Church, First Church of Christ, Scientist for the closing concert by Stephen Tharp which was so amazing and unbelievable! The AGO opened the concert to the public and so there was a huge crowd which was kept spellbound and absolutely mesmerized by his command of the large 200+ rank Aeolian-Skinner organ in a program of works by Naji Hakim, Nadia Boulanger, Vincent Persichetti, Leo Sowerby and Max Reger, nearly all of it memorized.
But it was the second half of the program which was absolutely superhuman as Stephen Tharp blew everyone away with his own transcription of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, based on the four-hand piano version. Not only was the rendition of this piece a tour de force to just play all the notes, and make the thousands of stop changes, but it was all played from memory to boot! Here are some of the comments people have posted to his FaceBook page:
An astounding, historic recital last night by Stephen Tharp at Mother Church to end the AGO convention, capped off by Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, done from memory! Words cannot adequately express what we all saw and heard last night, we were in the presence of genius. (J.S.)
It was terrifying and full of beauty and rawness. Thank you for the investment you made in hours and hours to make it for us. (M.S.)
Words cannot begin to express my amazement at last night’s concert! There are legends among us and Stephen Tharp is certainly one of them! He gave such an inspiring performance and I am so very honored to have been able to attend such a fine display of artistry and perfection! Bravo! (J.D.R.)
Inspiration, amazement, joy were the gifts you brought to the audience at the Mother Church tonight. I don’t think I will ever forget your performance as long as I live. The bar has been raised very high and there will be a few that can come close to it and perhaps never supersede it. As others have said, this was a game changing performance. Standards for organ concert playing just got a lot higher. While listening to the Rite of Spring I heard the right tone colors emerge from the instrument so clearly evocative of the original orchestration, and yet with the same incisiveness and perfect articulations as if there were bows playing the pipes. Those who’ve us who teach music history surveys to undergraduate music majors really enjoy teaching this piece and the students inevitably get into it. I hope that someday you will record it if you haven’t already and perhaps even a video of it. That would be a wonderful alternate performance for students to listen to, analyze and discuss. I also heard about five or six organists say on the way out that they were going to quit the organ after hearing this, which was a little distressing, but I realized I had that same feeling churning in my stomach too. I guess because many of us felt that we had been left in the dust. Not many of us are graced with the gifts of virtuosity, intelligence, aesthetic sensibilities, and rhythm as though you had studied drumming in West Africa or with a gamelon ensemble. It proved beyond any reasonable doubt that a very fine organist on the fine instrument can play extremely rhythmic, pulsating music even for a staged ballet performers. It would be interesting to know what Nijinski or Stravinsky might think. I’m hoping that the deep lead transformative experience we had at the concert tonight will be used as a channel through which we pour our energies into learning and practicing and perfecting new pieces, whether they are transcriptions or works written for the organ. Stephen, your performance tonight has given me fuel to work much harder and to think about the exciting rhythmic possibilities our instrument is capable of. Thank you for transporting us tonight with your lyrical sensitivities, and subtlety of tone color too. (R.R.B.)
Wow. Just WOW. Congrats to my dear friend Stephen Tharp on one of the greatest organ performances I have ever experienced. (F.T.)
Stephen Tharp‘s closing recital at the Boston AGO Convention may be the single greatest organ recital I have ever attended. Just astounding!! (G.R.)
It was an unforgettable night, and Boston saved the best for last in a week of superb music making.
Thank you, Boston AGO! We had the time of our lives!