When the late Carl Crosier programmed Bach’s monumental St. Matthew Passion in the year 2000, he wanted to present the work as it was originally conceived for the Thomaskirche in Leipzig: for two separate orchestras, two choirs, and two sets of soloists. It meant we also needed two pipe organs, which meant purchasing a continuo organ for the other side of the room. That’s when the “little Beckerath organ” came to Honolulu on loan, and people so fell in love with it that we raised $28,000 to purchase it.
Before all this, you may remember that in the years 1974-1977, the Lutheran Church of Honolulu had a larger continuo organ, an 8-rank with pedal instrument also built by Beckerath which served as its interim organ while the larger 33-rank instrument was being built.
It so happens that the 8-rank instrument, which had formerly been housed in a church in Sweden, was pitched at A=444. It seems that the higher pitch (concert pitch these days is considered A=440) helped the organ stay more in tune in the colder climate.
When the “big” organ came to Hawaii, Rudolf von Beckerath asked Carl how he should tune the organ. Since the plan was to keep both instruments for a time, Carl decided to have both organs tuned at A=444 so they could be played together.
Oh, we had great fun in those days alternating verses on the hymns, playing the Antonio Soler duets for two organs, and of course, playing both organs together on the church feast days! That organ was sold in 1977 to Holy Innocents Episcopal Church in Lahaina, Maui, where it remains to this day.
So in the year 2000, when the church again had two organs, that’s when I went on a hunt for organ duet music, and found several works to add to my library. However, Carl never had time to play the duets with me since he got involved in conducting the large choral and orchestral works of Bach, like the St. John Passion, Christmas Oratorio, and Mass in B-Minor.
One year we presented a concert called “Organists 1•2•3” with myself, Joseph Pettit and Keith Thompson playing solos, duets and trios.We had wanted to find a third organ, but couldn’t find one in our budget (which was peanuts!) so we settled for a piece for one organ, six hands (three players), and the rest of the works were for two organs.
Over the last couple of years, the Lutheran Church has hosted two organ duo concerts by visiting organists: Paul Tegels & Dana Robinson and Larry Schipull & Grant Moss, all of them solo organists in their own right, but both duos played on the same organ. You can’t imagine how difficult this is: because all these years you are taught to always sit in the same place on the bench. When you play a duet with someone, suddenly you’re no longer in the middle of the keyboard, you’re on one side or another! And then you lose your sense of where all the keys and pedals are!
The Hawaii Chapter of the American Guild of Organists also hosted Raymond and Elizabeth Chenault, who claim to be “America’s Premier Duo Organists,” as they have commissioned over 60 organ duets. Their concert was at Central Union Church. Unfortunately, I don’t remember what year that was.
So it was not until today, after all these years, that I again tried to play an organ duet—with Hawaii newcomer Jieun Kim Newland. We attempted to play Josef Blanco’s “First Concerto for Two Organs” and plan to perform it on November 18 at the Young Organist Recital (she’s young, but I’m not!) It is certainly challenging to stay together because of the great distance between the two instruments as you can see in the photo below. You can also see my view of Jieun in the mirror.
On her Facebook page, she wrote, “I am in love. Absolutely beautiful instrument,” referring to the Beckerath continuo instrument. Someone wrote in, “Poor Ben” (referring to her husband!)
Hopefully we can work up some more pieces to put on a full-length duo organ concert! In the meantime, we took selfies!
(By the way, my T-Shirt reads: “ORGANISTS GONE WILD!”)