Tonight was billed as “A Grand Celebration” commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Organ Historical Society and the 10th anniversary of the Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ. It took place at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, which is the home of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
We learned that Fred Haas, whose family foundation has been extremely generous to the Organ Historical Society in its gift of Stoneleigh, the 40-acre property and 36-room house, was also responsible for the Dobson organ in Kimmel. Fred J. Cooper was his maternal grandfather.
Tonight’s program began with the premiere of a piece for organ and percussion: timpani, toms, snare drum, bongos and marimba by composer Kurt Knecht and I absolutely loved all the delicious and exhilarating dissonances and driving rhythms. The composer himself was present for the premiere and got huge applause when he was called up to the stage afterwards. The work was stunningly performed by Christopher Marks, organ and Dave Hall, percussion.
The rest of the program was called “The Organ as Crystal Ball,” combining scenes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, acting and recitation, dance, and organ music ranging from Bach, Georg Böhm, César Franck, Felix Mendelssohn, Arvo Pärt, Torsten Nilsson, Olivier Messiaen and György Ligeti, combined with a light show on the organ pipes. Performers included Henryk Jandorf, actor; Hans Davidsson, organ; Stacye Camparo, Gabriel Davidsson and Jonathan Davidsson, dancers; John Duncan, Jr., lighting design; Thomas Mika, costumes and Ulrika Davidsson, music and dance coordinator.
If the point to be made was that this organ could handle all types of repertoire, they certainly succeeded. I wondered, though, whether adding the dance to the organ music was truly necessary, although the program stated “When rhythm and musical gesture in organ music of any style is enhanced with movement, recitation, acting and lighting, the musical repertoire ceases to be abstract for the performer as well as for the audience.”
I think the point at which I wanted to scream was during the Ligeti work where the organ was extraordinarily loud and sustained, with nearly the whole organist’s body covering the keys and all the stops drawn! I’m sure people in the audience were saying to themselves, “Is this really necessary?!” I wish I had taken a video of the organist at that l-o-o-o-o-n-g moment when he was absolutely writhing, jumping and dancing with his body on the keys, not just using his fingers and feet! Luckily, the organ was seemingly not harmed and there were no ciphers as a result! The audience could see the organ score from a distance which was a series of black blotches on the page!
Unfortunately I thought the program was just too long, and I felt my hearing was definitely assaulted. My ears were ringing long after the concert was over.
I would have been happy to just hear the organ in a regular recital! It sounds like a wonderful instrument.