Pittsburgh is a very attractive American city, situated between the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, which meet to form the Ohio River at the tip of a Manhattan-like triangle of land that is the downtown. Home to 151 high-rise buildings, two inclined railways, and a staggering 446 bridges, it is more than ketchup and paint, and I recommend a visit. You will fall in love with the city, its museums, vistas, churches, and the organs!
Monday evening, June 21, 2010
The convention began with an evening concert preceded by a wandering bus ride o’er the hills of Pittsburgh through the campus of Carnegie Mellon and the magnificent architecture of the University of Pittsburgh. Soon we arrived at Calvary Episcopal Church, a huge building designed in 1904 by Boston architect Ralph Adams Cram. One of the great Gothic Revival churches in America, its 208-foot-long interior seats 1,000 people. The present organ, a huge 4-manual Lawrence Phelps Casavant, Opus 2729, dates from 1963, with modifications and enlargements in 1991, 2004, and 2010.
The recitalist was Peter Guy from Australia, who began with the hymn How shall I sing that majesty to the tune Coe Fen, which I hope will make its way into hymnals soon. The concert began with Duruflé’s Prelude, Adagio, and Chorale Variations on “Veni Creator.” Flutes bubbled about the church as soft solo reeds soloed beneath. The Adagio was announced with a somber Trumpet, then that gorgeous string passage. The variations were played with grace, tenderness, and power. The console was moved into the crossing, and those of us sitting in the transept could not help but notice that, good Aussie boy that he is, Guy played in his stocking feet!
Bach’s Fantasia and Fugue in C Minor, BWV 537, came next. The organ’s principals were warm and expansive as he used the swell shades to good effect, although the registrations did get a little muddy. Guy then played a piece by Australian composer Keith Noake (1915–1968): Introduction, Pastorale, and Fugue on Leoni—a good demonstration of some solo stops. In the Pastorale we heard the clarinet against the Swell strings. The Fugue was announced with, I believe, the powerful Trompette Royale on the Great. A majestic ending brought the piece to a close.
A charming Cantilène by Salomé was next, with a solo on the oboe and a sort of oom-pah accompaniment on a Choir flute and soft pedal. Guy closed with Gothic Toccata, by another Australian composer, Graeme Koehne (b. 1956). Its C-minor tonality had loads of fire and color—a virtuoso performance! A standing ovation demanded an encore: Angelic Whispers by W. R. Knox, from the 1930s.
Tuesday, June 22
The day began in pouring rain as we made our way to Bellevue, Pennsylvania, and the Roman Catholic Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the Beautiful River. The Romanesque church features a splendid fresco of Mary ascending into heaven surrounded by saints, apostles, and angels. The acoustics were wonderful for the 1964 3-manual Casavant of about 41 ranks.
The recitalist was Ann Labounsky, who began with Langlais’ famous Hymne d’actions de grâce “Te Deum”. It was marvelously played with great expansiveness. We then sang the hymn Holy God, we praise Thy name (Grosser Gott)— all seven verses. The Pittsburgh area was in the midst of a heat wave, and the humidity and heat made for some colorful tuning issues in the many non-air-conditioned churches we would enter during the convention. This one was no exception. The reeds complained, but Ms. Labounsky soldiered on, took charge, set a good tempo and led us well.
She ended with Six More Pieces for Organ, op. 133, by Pennsylvania composer Joseph Willcox Jenkins (b. 1928). We would hear his fine music several times during the week. I. Sonatina showed the principal choruses. II. Arioso used the strings and a soft solo reed. III. Ludus Angelorum used an Alleluia chant from the Roman Missal. The clear and focused registrations at mf level were well chosen. IV. Ochone used the Great 8′ Principal as a solo over soft foundation stops. A plaintive bagpipe-like cry was heard, then the solo principal returned with an answering phrase by a solo reed. V. Dona Nobis Pacem began with the flutes. Soon we heard the Cornet on the Choir. This organ is very much of its time, but the voicing is very refined. VI. Toccata (“This Service Ends, Let Yours Begin”) brought the piece to an end. Very enjoyable music, beautifully played, and on a fine mid-20th-century organ!
The second stop of the day was at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Perrysville for a recital by the church’s own organist, Charlotte Roederer. The organ is a 2-manual, 7-rank, tubular-pneumatic Estey, Opus 1558 (1917). An unusual feature is the Swell 8′ Oboe, which is reedless. Roederer began with Variations on Tallis’s Canon by Franklin D. Ashdown (b. 1942), which provided a good demonstration of the tiny instrument’s resources. Each of the three Great stops (all are at 8′ pitch) has twelve Haskell basses. The tone of this fine little organ, rich and full, was more than able to accompany a church full of OHSers. Those old boys building organs at the turn of the 20th century knew what they were doing.
Then came a beautiful little Prelude, op. 19, no. 1, by John Knowles Paine, which Roederer played with careful attention to phrasing and elasticity. Dudley Buck’s Concert Variations on “The Star-Spangled Banner,” op. 23, followed, beginning on the gentle Swell Salicional. The hymn was Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (Lobe den Herren). We sang the first verse in German, as we were in the home of this German congregation. Roederer led us skillfully.
We then went to Hartwood Acres County Park, site of a large Cotswold-style limestone mansion, which houses a 2-manual Aeolian player organ, Opus 1091 (1909), now under restoration. There was a fun circus-like self-playing instrument on the grounds that entertained us during our meal.
The first stop of the afternoon for my group was Nativity Lutheran Church, Allison Park, to hear James Heustis Cook demonstrate the church’s M. P. Möller Opus 10656-T (1970). That “T” stands for tracker! This organ proved to be a surprise favorite of the convention! With 2 manuals and pedal and 18 ranks, it was beautifully voiced, a joint venture between Möller and G. F. Steinmeyer & Co. of Germany. Page 143 of this convention’s Atlas tells of a political brouhaha that raged around a pastor of this church who barricaded himself within its walls, a labor dispute, and some of the organ’s pipes. It is quite the story.
We heard a marvelous concert on this wonderful little organ. The chairs had been turned around so that we faced the organ. Cook began with Bach’s Fantasia in C, BWV 570, played expressively on a nicely voiced 8′ Principal. Next was a setting of Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott, by Johann Nikolaus Hanff (1615–1711), which featured a solo on the Trumpet stop. We then returned to Bach for Nun freut euch, lieben Christen g’mein, BWV 734, very well played with a fine, clear flute on the Great, and the Swell 4′ Krummhorn coupled to the pedal.
J. G. Walther’s Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren used the organ’s very fine principal chorus. We then sang the hymn to that tune. It was appropriately played and the organ was more than adequate to the task of accompanying a church full of OHSers. The “Let the Amen” was hair-raising!
There followed Two Pieces for a Musical Clock by Franz Joseph Haydn: Marche and Presto. The “cute” factor was very much in play—I liked the 4′ Koppel Flute. Next was a favorite of mine: Hermann Schroeder’s setting of Schönster Herr Jesu; Cook played it with tenderness and grace. In the Scherzo from Vierne’s Second Symphony, Cook’s nimble fingers flew over the keys. Music for a Sunday Morning by Allen Orton Gibbs (1910–1996) followed, beginning with energetic mf sounds for Prelude (Psalm 122:1); Offertory (Prayer) had contrasting A and B sections; Postlude (Psalm 117) was a rollicking dance-like piece.
Cook closed with two movements from Dan Locklair’s Rubrics: “. . . and thanksgivings may follow” used the 7-bell Zimbelstern, mounted in front of the 8′ Principal façade pipes; it seemed to dance along with the jazzy rhythms of this wonderful music. “The Peace may be exchanged” brought this outstanding recital to a gentle end.
We were then divided into two groups. Somehow there was a scheduling snafu (these things happen), and my group arrived at St. Benedict the Moor Roman Catholic Church in Pittsburgh an hour early, so we enjoyed some down time. We admired the many beautiful African touches that adorned the grand old building. The organ in the balcony was a 2-manual Derrick & Felgemaker, Opus 95 from 1872; I counted 22 stops. Moved to St. Benedict’s in 1958, by 1990 it fell into disuse. The Harmony Society, directed by John Cawkins, restored the instrument. It is used only occasionally. OHS’s Steven Schnurr presented the congregation with an OHS Citation of Merit.
Kevin Birch began with Flötenkonzert, op. 55, by Johann C.H. Rinck. I. Allegro Maestoso: the Great Principal chorus played in dialogue with a very pleasant-sounding Swell Stopped Diapason. II. Adagio used the lovely Melodia. III. Rondo (Allegretto) alternated between full Great and Swell 8′ and 4′ flutes. Full organ with reeds brought this attractive music to a close. Next was Liszt: Consolation in D-flat, which used more of the foundation stops—then came Ave Maris Stella. The gentle and sweet little Keraulophon had to compete with the church’s fans; the fans won. (It was quite warm and humid.) The hymn Hail, Holy Queen enthroned above (Salve Regina Coelitum) is a sentimental favorite of mine, taking me back to my ‘younger and more vulnerable years’. A Beethoven Scherzo followed. It sounded like a glockenspiel—utterly charming.
In the Intermezzo from Rheinberger’s Sonata IV, op. 98, the lovely melody sang out on the Swell’s Bassoon/Oboe. This is a fantastic organ, and yet the choir sits at the opposite end of the church in front of the old altar surrounded by a piano, an electronic instrument, and a drum set.
Birch closed his program with Fantasie-Sonate No. 2 by Samuel de Lange Sr. (1811–1884). I. Maestoso used full plenum with reeds in music reminiscent of Guilmant. II. Andante provided another visit with the beautiful flutes of this organ. III. Allegro con fuoco brought back big forte sound alternating with a smaller sound on the Swell, and a fugue. A superb demonstration recital on a superb organ!
A delicious dinner was served on board a riverboat, The Gateway Clipper, as we cruised up and down the wonderful rivers, enjoying the skyline, the lights, and the magnificent sunset. Those of us with cameras had a great time!
Wednesday, June 23
Calvary United Methodist Church in Pittsburgh was our first stop. The 3-manual, 32-stop Farrand & Votey, Opus 734 (1895), was given an OHS Citation of Merit. The church is very beautiful with huge Louis Comfort Tiffany windows. James Hammann’s recital featured music by Horatio Parker. Parker’s Sonata in E-flat Minor, op. 65, was an excellent demonstration piece with its changes in tone color and dynamics. The Doppel Flute and Swell Cornopean were prominently featured in the first movement. The second movement, Andante, was a dialogue with the flutes, Clarinet, and Vox Humana. Hammann is no stranger to instruments like this, and he used its resources very well. The Allegretto began with a humorous conversation between the flutes and the clarinet. I could see many smiles around the room. The Doppel Flute dominated the chat. The sonata closed with a fugue, which built to full organ as it proceeded at a modest pace. The Charles Wesley hymn Forth in Thy Name, O Lord with the tune Pixham by Horatio Parker (from The Hymnal 1940) closed the program. It was well led, and sung with enthusiasm. Pity it did not reappear in the 1982 Hymnal.
Our bus caravan drove northwest of Pittsburgh through forested hills and valleys to the city of Beaver, and Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, a mid-1950s building in the style of a New England meeting house. The one-manual and pedal eight-stop Felgemaker organ, Opus 665 (1898), has survived a series of moves and fires that causes one to salute its durability. Dana Hull and John Cawkins supervised its revitalization. Today it stands in the rear gallery. Richard Konzen presented an eclectic program of music from Gabrieli to Distler. He began with a lively Praeludium in C by Johann Christoph Kellner, in which flutes were soon joined by the Open Diapason 8′ and the Fifteenth. Gabrieli’s Ricercar arioso IV featured the Open Diapason in fine style, with well-articulated and elegant playing. Next came Dreissig Spielstücke für die Kleinorgel by Hugo Distler:
1. Schnelle was announced with 8′ and 2′. In 2. Schnelle, the warm Melodia took over. 3. Gehende began on the Dulciana; he then added the 4′ flute for a bit before returning to the beautiful Dulciana.
4. Flincke was a jolly little canonic thing on flutes 8′ and 4′ with the Fifteenth.
Next came that great hymn, All my hope on God is founded, with its tune Michael by Herbert Howells. Konzen followed with a great favorite by Pietro Yon: Humoresque ‘L’Organo Primitivo’. He closed with Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 539, which worked quite well on this organ—Felgemakers are amazing instruments. This was a very well-played program.
The afternoon began at First Presbyterian Church in New Brighton, with a recital by Andrew Scanlon on the church’s fine 2-manual, 17-register Hook & Hastings Opus 2548 from 1928, which stands at the front of the church. Scanlon began with three of Six Pieces by Joseph Willcox Jenkins (b. 1928). Deo Gracias showed the usual Hook powerful presence—the forte sound was arresting. Arioso used the organ’s soft sounds—the oboe and strings, etc. were lovely. Rondeau alternated between the 8′ and 2′ flutes and other quiet effects.
Next was Bach’s Fantasia and Fugue in C Minor, BWV 537. Scanlon played it in the style of the 1920s, with shades and such. He used simple, clear registrations—each musical line was carefully delineated. The marvelous fugue moved at a good clip, with only a small use of the shades—good Bach playing. He then played a piece new to me: Fideles from Four Extemporizations by Percy Whitlock—very calm and soothing music. I loved the strings on this organ. There was a small chime at the end.
The hymn was God moves in a mysterious way (London New). The organ was a trifle too heavy in places, but otherwise it was well done. Scanlon closed with Langlais’ Three Characteristic Pieces. Pastorale-Prelude featured the Oboe and some of the organ’s softest sounds. Interlude used the fine Swell Dolce Cornet III. Bells featured many of the stronger sounds, building to a grand “peak” of sorts. A fine demonstration of a great organ!
We then went to St. John’s United Evangelical Protestant Church in Zelienople to hear organist Gregory Crowell and cellist Pablo Mahave-Veglia, with the church’s sweet little Joseph Harvey organ from 1838. Harvey was a Pittsburgh organbuilder. This one-manual (no pedal) organ has four stops and stands in the rear gallery. Crowell began with Voluntary (Adagio) by Charles Zeuner, played on what sounded like the Stopped Diapason, followed by Festival Voluntary from Cutler & Johnson’s American Church Voluntaries (1856). From Sanahin by Hovhaness, he played VII. Apparition in the Sky (Bird-like) on the 4′ Principal.
Some Mendelssohn followed: Andante religioso from Sonata in B-flat, op. 65, no. 4; Adagio non troppo from Lied ohne Worte, op. 30. The hymn was I would be true (Aspiration); the tune was new to me. We were instructed to sing the last verse pp so that we might hear the cello obbligato, which used material from Mendelssohn’s Song without Words. It was lovely. A Fugue in D Minor (1778) by Wilhelm Friedemann Bach followed, and the concert ended with a fine reading of Vivaldi’s Sonata VI for Cello and Continuo in B-flat Major, RV 46.
The next recital was one I had looked forward to for a long time. Paul Matthew Weber played the 1969 Flentrop organ (2 manuals, 22 stops) at Center Presbyterian Church in Slippery Rock. I was his first organ teacher, and was proud to see him become a Biggs Fellow to the New Haven convention. He would go on to study at Lawrence University and then at Yale, where he earned his DMA. I shall try to be impartial in this review. Actually, that will not be a problem, as his recital was brilliant. The heat that afternoon was oppressive and the organ fought back, but none of us minded. Weber began with the Offertoire sur les grands jeux from François Couperin’s Parish Mass. The reeds were as unhappy with the heat and humidity as we were, but we paid no attention to their complaining—Paul’s wonderful sense of the French Baroque style carried the day.
Next was Sweelinck’s variations on Mein junges Leben hat ein End. Weber began with the Hoofdwerk Prestant 8′, then the Brostwerk 4′ Koppelfluit, then flutes 8′ and 4′, and led us on a fine tour of this very good organ. His playing was clear and controlled, with imaginative choices of color. Brahms’s Herzlich tut mich erfreuen, op. 122, no. 4, featured a dialogue between the Hoofdwerk principals 8′ and 4′, and the Brostwerk flutes 8′ and 4′. We then sang Weber’s setting of that hymn, which he led with great strength. He closed with Buxtehude’s Toccata in G Minor, BuxWV 163, played with a wonderful sense of drive and energy. Immaculate technique and musical line propelled this rousing music to an ebullient conclusion. Well done!
The evening concert took place at Grove City College’s Harbison Chapel on its 4-manual Kimball organ, Opus 7102 from 1931, which stands in chambers on either side of the chancel. The organ had fallen into disrepair, but has been beautifully restored by the Thompson-Allen Company. The console was updated by Nelson Barden & Associates; with solid-state switching and combinations, it is now more practical for teaching. With the air hot and humid, the doors and windows were left open, which allowed fireflies to enter the chapel, adding an enchanting touch to the evening.
It is always a joy to hear Thomas Murray, a regular at OHS conventions. He began with Rhapsody on a Breton Theme, op. 7, by Saint-Saëns. Murray is a master of the orchestral style. His flawless use of expression shades and tone color is the stuff of legend. This piece was a delight. He then played one-time Yale faculty member Paul Hindemith’s Sonata II. Clean registration with contrasting statements highlighted this performance. I loved the growl of the lowest notes of the Swell 16′ Bassoon. Widor’s Symphonie II followed. Murray opened the first movement (Praeludium Circulare) with the huge First Open Diapason 8′ forcing its way into the long room. Other 8′ opens followed. Pastorale playfully danced before us on the beautiful Oboe, which provided whimsy and bliss. He moved the Andante right along—mostly mf, he built it quite smoothly to a good ff and back. Quieter sounds finished the piece, with the French Horn playing the theme. The Finale showed plenty of dash in the hands and feet—it was a splendid performance!
After the intermission, Michael Barone presented Prof. Murray with the OHS Distinguished Service Award for 2010, a richly deserved honor. We leapt to our feet to applaud this great musician!
The second half offered transcriptions by Edwin H. Lemare: Im Garten from Rustic Wedding Symphony, op. 26, by Karl Goldmark (1830–1915). The strings, Vox Humana, and French Horn were heard doing what they do best. Murray did what he does best: bring the most out of this music and organs of this type, making the music sparkle and glow. The next transcription was Scherzo, op. 70, no. 3, by Heinrich Hofmann (1842–1902), a delightful confection; at the end, we even heard the harp.
We then heard a 2008 work by Dan Locklair: Glory and Peace—A Suite of Seven Reflections, commissioned by the Association of Anglican Musicians. Murray gave the premiere performance at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. The movements are inspired by the great George Herbert hymn King of Glory, King of Peace. I. King of Glory, King of Peace (Prelude) used the Tuba Mirabilis in a steadily moving section rising to a ff then backing down to strings and a 32′. II. “. . . seven whole days . . .” (Pavane) used foundation stops. III. “. . . I will praise Thee . . .” (Galliard) is a dance with harp and a faint trace of “America”. IV. “. . . I will love Thee . . .” (Aria) used the Swell Trumpet singing with warmth over some flutes. V. “. . . with my utmost heart . . .” (Scherzo) had playful flute sounds occasionally interrupted by a single chime, which he employed with wit and grace; the harp got the last word. VI. “. . . I will sing Thee . . .” (Trio) was more charm and fun. VII. “. . . e’en eternity’s too short to extol Thee” (Finale) had big full sounds—a joyous romp! A great piece, a great organ, and a great organist! And to add to the magic of the evening, fireflies gracefully led the way back to our buses.
Thursday, June 24
After a lovely climb through more of Pittsburgh’s beautiful neighborhoods, we arrived at the spectacular Gothic Revival Episcopal Church of St. Andrew, Pittsburgh’s second oldest Episcopal church, formed in 1837. Their present building dates from 1906 and features a chancel window, “Christ Blessing Little Children,” by Tiffany Studios. The organ is a 4-manual Skinner, Opus 202 (1913). Beginning in 1992, organist/choirmaster Peter Luley began rebuilding and expanding the organ in the Skinner style. We had two performers that morning: Donald Wilkins and Charles Huddleston Heaton.
Donald Wilkins performed music by Pittsburgh composers. First was a sturdy Postludium Circulaire by Henry Gaul (1881–1945), followed by Western Pennsylvania Suite (1958) by Ruel Lahmer (b. 1912). I. Dunlap’s Creek moved along gently on softer foundation stops. II. Fading Flowers was quiet. We heard the melancholy nature of Skinner’s solo stops, including Oboe and French Horn. III. Bellevernon was somehow reminiscent of Aaron Copland, and built itself to IV. The Spacious Firmament, which brought this nice piece to an end.
Gloria Te Deum by Nancy Galbraith (b. 1951) is in the style of a French toccata. Next was Joseph Willcox Jenkins’ Cantique Joyeux from Trois Cadeaux, op. 206 (2005), which featured the brilliant Fanfare Trumpet above the west doors. It calmed itself down to a pp and then made its way back.
We then switched organists. Charles Huddleston Heaton began with Dupré’s Prelude and Fugue in G Minor, op. 7, no. 3; he played it very well, but I could have done without the fanfare trumpets at the end of the fugue. Prelude on Christmas Carol by Morgan Simmons (b. 1929) followed. It is a gorgeous setting of that wonderful carol tune by Walford Davies sung to O Little Town of Bethlehem—worth getting! Fanfare-Improvisation on Azmon came next and led into the hymn O for a thousand tongues to sing.
The next stop was St. James Roman Catholic Church in Wilkinsburg, which greeted us with a peal of its bells—something we used to do all the time at OHS conventions, but have for some reason or another abandoned. Bring it back, please! Will Headlee performed on the church’s large Möller organ, Opus 9628 (1962), in a program entitled “Homage to Ernest White (1901–1980).” The music came from White’s collection Graveyard Gems (St. Mary’s Press, 1954). The organ is interesting for, among other things, its Swell division divided on either side of the altar. Headlee began with Allegro pomposo by Thomas Roseingrave, which marched along nicely. Adagio by Josef Hector Fiocco featured a mini-Cornet sound that was clear and light. Thomas Arne’s Flute Solo showed off the fine Positiv Koppel Flute 4′.
Then came two pieces by Pachelbel: Prelude in D Minor and Ciacona in D Minor. One was aware of the top-heavy sounds of this era of organbuilding. Headlee gave his usual fine performance, with loads of freedom and clearly articulated fast runs. Next, the Gigout Scherzo in E Major from Dix pièces. It put me in mind of an old all-French Biggs LP I owned back in college, which was recorded at St. George’s Episcopal Church in NYC on a Möller of similar vintage.
We then heard Clérambault’s Basse et dessus de trompette from Livre d’orgue on the Great Trompet. After a bit, he added the Harmonics III, giving the Trompet a different character. Brahms’s O Welt, ich muß dich lassen, op. post. 122, no. 3, used the pretty strings, followed by Messiaen’s Dieu parmi nous. The piece worked surprisingly well on this organ. But, oh, those high-pitched mixtures! The hymn Lift high the cross (Crucifer) ended this fine program.
The next recital of the morning was at St. Therese of Lisieux Roman Catholic Church in Munhall, with Stephen Schnurr, who gives an astonishing amount of his time and talent to the OHS. The organ was a 1960 2-manual, 33-rank Casavant designed by Lawrence Phelps. The main part of the organ is in the front of the church in a chamber to the right of the altar. There is a floating nave division at the far end of the long nave, to help support congregational singing. Dr. Schnurr opened with Bruhns’s Präludium in G Major. He played it very well, gradually unveiling the resources of the organ. The only reed stop in the sanctuary divisions is an 8′ Krumhorn on the Swell. The trumpets are in the Bombarde division back in the nave. Next was a setting of Nun freu’ dich, liebe Christen mein’, S. 21, by R. E. Bach, who flourished in the 1740s. It sounded a great deal like JSB’s setting, which elicited a chuckle or two from us.
Next, A Gigue for the Tuba Stop (2004) by Donald Stuart Wright (b. 1940), a pleasant piece, played amicably. The hymn was Lord, you give the great commission (Abbot’s Leigh). This rather gentle neo-baroque organ didn’t stand a chance trying to accompany the OHS in spite of Schnurr’s best efforts. Then, a lovely setting by Edwin H. Lemare of My Old Kentucky Home (Stephen Foster). Unfortunately our bus drivers took it upon themselves to start their engines and move about the parking lot, ruining Stephen’s charming performance and the recording of same. This problem would continue throughout this convention, and was a source of annoyance for all of us. Schnurr closed with Petr Eben’s Moto ostinato from Musica Dominicalis (1958), which worked quite well on this style of organ.
We had lunch and the annual meeting at the Pleasant Hills Community Presbyterian Church, followed by a recital on the church’s fine Holtkamp organ (1970, 2 manuals and 23 stops). The organ stands in the front of the church behind the altar. James M. Stark, co-chair of this convention, was chairman of the committee that produced this organ. Our recitalist was George Bozeman, who has played multiple times for the OHS and who always manages to insert a bit of whimsy along with solid choices of literature. He began with a piece perfectly suited to this quintessential Chick Holtkamp organ: Hindemith’s Sonata I (1937). This organ is a warm-sounding neo-baroque instrument, and Bozeman used it wisely. I especially enjoyed movement II, Sehr langsam, in which the Cromorne sang its sad song from the swell box—a beautiful tone, used very expressively. The full plenum thrilled but did not dominate. This was an excellent organ for this music.
Next came a bit of humor: Bozeman’s own transcription of A Day in Venice, op. 25, by Ethelbert Nevin (1862–1901). It began with: Alba (Dawn), which led into Gondolieri (Gondoliers), with its 12/8 rhythm taking us down some pretty canal. Canzone Amorosa (Venetian Love Song) used the 8′ Principal in the tenor range, with strings and flutes accompanying. Buona Notte (Good Night) brought it to a close with dark, thick chords giving way to lighter strings and plucks on the Great 8′ Gedackt. Who knew a 1970 Holtkamp organ could be a romantic instrument? George Bozeman did! Well done!
The hymn was A stable lamp is lighted (Andujar). Bozeman closed this well-prepared and carefully thought-out program with Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E Major, BWV 877, from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book Two. In the prelude, he demonstrated each of the delicious sounding 8′ and 4′ flutes of this organ. For the fugue he used reeds and foundations—solid, well-defined.
After dinner at the Sheraton Station Square Hotel, we went to the evening event at one of Pittsburgh’s most opulent churches, East Liberty Presbyterian Church, for a recital by Paul Jacobs. This is no ordinary Presbyterian church. It is a huge, vast building in Gothic style built in 1930 to plans by Boston architect Ralph Adams Cram, who was given an unlimited sum of money to spend by the donors, B.B. Mellon and his wife, Jennie King Mellon. Our Atlas quoted architectural historian Walter C. Kidney: “Though building with Presbyterian money . . . [Cram] so designed the chancel that on half an hour’s notice [it] could be set up for a Catholic or Anglican High Mass.” Indeed, carvings and statues were on display all over the building. And the 4-manual, 140-rank organ—the largest we heard at the convention—was to die for. Originally an Aeolian-Skinner, in 2004 Goulding & Wood was awarded the contract to rebuild the organ and reverse changes made in the 1970s. In addition, the acoustics were improved.
Paul Jacobs began with Mendelssohn’s Sonata in F Minor, op. 65, no. 1. The Allegro moderato e serioso was grand and spacious. The peaceful Adagio was restful and quiet. The Andante–Recitativo showed the soft solo and chorus reeds. Jacobs added more and more reeds. His pacing was perfect as the sounds grew grander from this massive organ with seemingly limitless resources. It was, by turns, thrilling and terrifying.
We then sang the hymn The church’s one foundation (Aurelia). The organ seemed a little loud from where I sat. Next, a piece not in the program: Prelude in F Minor by Nadia Boulanger, which showed the strings and foundation stops. He gradually added upperwork before bringing it down to 8′ flutes. Jacobs then moved into Franck’s Finale in B-flat, op. 21. He took the beginning at a dazzlingly fast tempo. I don’t approve of his registrations in Franck, but he sells the music. Who am I to tell Paul Jacobs how to play the organ? I confess that I did like the Flauto Mirabilis used as a solo stop.
During the intermission many of us stepped up to the console to have a closer look. It stood in the center of the chancel. The pipes were high up in chambers on both sides. We were amused to find a drawknob labeled “Console Fan”. When drawn, cool air blows onto the player. Not a bad idea!
After intermission, Jacobs acknowledged the presence of all three of his organ teachers: George Rau, John Weaver, and Thomas Murray. He also introduced his 92-year-old grandmother, and urged all of us to encourage our friends and relatives to attend arts events.
We then heard this remarkable young musician play Liszt’s Fantasy and Fugue on “Ad nos, ad salutarem undam.” Jacobs used the huge variety of tone color at his disposal. It was a grand tour that was at times poignant and at times exhilarating. Young and old, we were all agog over this man’s talent and profound musicianship. We leapt to our feet and cheered. He had given his all to this great music, this great organ, and to all of us. For an encore he played a Bach Fugue in C Minor.
Apart from Jacobs’ playing, what impressed me most was his willingness to meet with all the young people who were present and who clamored to sit on the bench and have their pictures taken with him, this glittering star of the organ world. The Biggs Fellows were thrilled at the gracious generosity of his spirit. He seemed not to have any other concern in the world but to spend time with them—a lesson for all of us!
Friday, June 25
Friday morning began with a drive to the Verona United Methodist Church for a recital by Carol Britt on the church’s 2-manual, 12-rank Wirsching organ (1915). The organ sits in a balcony directly above the altar: the console faces some Tiffany-style windows, with the pipes on either side. A lovely “Coronation” tapestry hangs down to the altar.
We began by singing When morning gilds the skies (Laudes Domini). Britt opened her program with Four Compositions (3. At Twilight, and 4. The Swan) by Charles Albert Stebbins (1874–1958): movement 3 featured the sweet little Oboe; in the fourth movement, the gentle Salicional moved gracefully. Next came Variations on “Les Beaux Mots” by John David Peterson (b. 1946), which had a bit of a French Baroque tambourin style. Then we heard Lemare’s transcription and paraphrase of Stephen Foster’s Massa’s in the Cold, Cold Ground, with the organ’s only reed, the Swell Oboe 8′, playing in the tenor register. The piece ended on the Swell Stopped Diapason with the occasional chime. Britt closed with Mendelssohn’s Sonata III. Such wonderful music, beautifully played, and a very good demonstration of the organ.
All Saints Roman Catholic Church in Etna was our next destination. This Lombard Romanesque (basilica style) church was built in 1915 to plans by John Theodore Comes of Pittsburgh. Six towering granite columns line each of the side aisles. The organ came from the Organ Clearing House, acquired by the church’s organist and OHS member J. R. Daniels (also a co-chair of this convention): an 1895 Hook & Hastings, Opus 1687, of 2 manuals and approximately 23 ranks. Patrick Murphy restored the instrument, completing it in December 1995. It stands in the rear gallery, and the acoustics favored the organ quite well.
Russell Weismann began with Mendelssohn’s Prelude and Fugue in C Minor, op. 37, no. 1, which he played very well, with just the right blend of clarity, drive, and grace. Next was Folk Tune (no. 2 from Five Short Pieces), by Percy Whitlock. The Salicional accompanied flutes on the Great, then the Oboe in the tenor range. The sounds were warm and filled the room. The hymn, Father, Lord of all creation, was sung to the tune Geneva, and included an imaginative reharmonization. Weismann closed with Dudley Buck’s Concert Variations on the Star Spangled Banner. We had the surprise of a Zimbelstern in about the third variation. I’ve never heard anyone else do that. It worked very well. He played with expression and artistry!
We then split into three groups. My group went to First Unitarian Church in Pittsburgh to hear its Wirsching organ built in Salem, Ohio in 1904: 2 manuals and about 21 ranks. The organ was donated by Andrew Carnegie, and Clarence Eddy played the dedication recital. The building is quite handsome, with splendid beams. The organ is at the front, situated in a gallery with an arched recess. Recitalist Mark W. Frazier began with the hymn Sing praise to God who reigns above (Mit Freuden Zart). We were only a third of our usual size, but Frazier played as though the entire convention was singing in this smallish church—needless to say, he drowned us out. The first piece was the Passacaglia, no. 11 from Rheinberger’s Zwölf Charackterstücke, op. 156 (1888). He carried it along quite well.
Next up were Two Chorale Preludes by Roland Leich (1911–1995). Mein Herz, gedenk’, was Jesus thut used a charming 4′ flute. The program listed three movements including a pastorale; the reeds were used well. Die ganze Welt brought it to a close. Frazier then played Légende (2010), which was written especially for this concert by Luke Mayernik (b. 1981). It was full of dark mysterious colors on the Oboe and foundation stops. The middle section called for a Cornet-like sound. The final part took us back to the beginning, and ended on the strings—a good demonstration piece.
We then heard Frazier’s own composition, The Whimsical Frustretude (1995), a happy bit of music with a tongue-in-cheek setting including bits of “Woody Woodpecker”—I liked it a lot! The last piece was Toccata on “Litaniae Sanctorum” (2009) by Robert Farrell (b. 1945)—an exciting work nicely played. Frazier provided well-written and much appreciated program notes, as there was a lot of new music on this fine concert.
There was a symposium on “An Organ in 18th-century Western Pennsylvania: Joseph Downer’s ca. 1788 Chamber Organ”—an organ that only exists in pieces. A distinguished panel of organ historians discussed this instrument. Slides were shown of what remains of the organ, along with what these experts could piece together of the instrument’s history.
My group then went to Pittsburgh’s Temple Rodef Shalom, a large building dating from 1907. The W. W. Kimball Company built the 54-rank, 4-manual organ. Sadly, the instrument is in poor condition and awaits proper restoration. Recitalist Donald Fellows, organist at St. Paul Roman Catholic Cathedral, told us that many of the stops were unusable or had several silent notes. He put on a fine concert nonetheless. The organ stands in a front balcony, which rises above the Bima and the Aron Kodesh. Two menorahs are mounted near the railing, and there are ornamental en-chamade pipes all across the façade. Inside the case is a stop called, appropriately, Tuba Shophar, not playable just now.
Fellows began with Grand Chorus from Twelve Pieces by Theodore Dubois, in which we heard what there was of the Tutti. Next was Balletto del Granduca by Sweelinck, with five of its variations; all were played with great skill and style. I liked the soft flutes and Swell reeds. Then, music by Ernst Bloch: V. Un poco animato from Six Preludes, which presented more of the softer stops. Then A Partita on Laudate Dominum by Richard Proulx—nice individual sounds like the Swell 4′ flute and a beautiful Oboe. We then sang the hymn Sing praise to the Lord (Laudate Dominum), which sounded grand beneath the dome of this great worship space.
The final banquet took place in the palatial spaces of the Carnegie Music Hall, an extraordinary building in Italianate style. The Grand Foyer, added in 1907, was set up for our banquet: a gilded hall with a 50-foot ceiling lined by green marble columns from five countries. We, however, entered the Music Hall first: a lovely jewel-box of a space with red seating for 1,950 people and two balconies. On stage was the huge console of the 126-rank organ. Originally a Farrand & Votey (1895), the organ was rebuilt by
E. M. Skinner in 1917. Aeolian-Skinner did further rebuilding in 1933 and in 1950, adding percussions.
James Stark, in his fine lecture complete with PowerPoint illustrations, told us that the organ had been silent for 20 years. You can imagine our surprise when J. R. Daniels sat down at the console—he played a Fanfare by Michael McCabe that led us into the singing of Eternal Father Strong to Save (Melita). Emotions ran strong throughout that beautiful and historic room. It was one of those “only at OHS” moments. The older folk headed for the beautiful banquet area while the young folk had a field day with this huge and very grand instrument. They soon joined us, happy and smiling at their good fortune! We can only hope that this historic and noble instrument can be blessed with the thorough restoration it so richly deserves. The banquet was fantastic. We felt like royalty!
And then came what was for many of us one of those unforgettable OHS recitals: Wolfgang Rübsam in recital on the huge 4-manual Beckerath organ with its 32′ facade (1962) at St. Paul Cathedral. Our fine Atlas told us that it is “the first mechanical-action organ to be installed in a North American cathedral in the 20th century.” We have the late cathedral organist, Paul Koch, to thank for acquiring this fine organ. It inspired countless organs in the years that followed. It has been restored quite elegantly by Taylor & Boody, who began work on it in 2008. An OHS Historic Citation of Merit was presented by Stephen Schnurr.
Herr Rübsam’s concert was a dandy. He opened with two movements from Vierne’s Symphony No. II in E Minor, op. 20. The Allegro sent volleys of sound through the majestic arches of this great and reverberant building. Rübsam’s famed strength and sense of rhythm plumbed the depths of this fantastic music. As always, he was in complete control of music, instrument, and building. The Chorale movement began on the glorious 16′ foundation stops. It picked up speed and energy, giving us bigger reed sound, contrasting sections of loud and soft, building to a huge ending—it was thrilling.
Next came Franck’s Fantasie in A. It was marvelous hearing him turn this very German organ, with its faint neo-Baroque accents, into a French instrument, which says a great deal about Prof. Rübsam and about Rudolf von Beckerath. With the fine restoration by Taylor & Boody, the organ sounds better than ever.
Then came some Rheinberger (for my money, nobody plays this composer better than Wolf Rübsam): Sonata No. 5 in F-sharp Minor, op. 111. I. Grave-Allegro moderato: the music rumbled through this great cathedral; one was nearly overcome by its sheer force. II. Adagio non troppo used one of the gorgeous principals for a solo in its tenor range. III. Finale (Allegro maestoso) began with a shockingly big sound. He made it roll and roar—utterly fantastic. Can you tell that I enjoyed this recital? His performance served the music first, not himself. It ended in a blaze of glory.
Then Rübsam did something he does as well as anyone on the planet: improvise. This was entitled Polyphonic Improvisation on Rendez à Dieu. There were five pieces, each in the style of a different composer. They were utterly convincing. You would have sworn that he had discovered a never-before-heard chorale prelude from the Clavier-Übung, or that Clérambault had written a third suite. It was a tour de force of the highest magnitude. 1. Chorale was played on the warm 8′ Principal, a beautiful harmonization. 2. Bicinium followed, the evening’s first use of the Cornets in the manner of a French Baroque “Duo” with 16′ in the left hand. 3. Cantus Firmus Soprano had the melody on a strong RH Cornet while the LH accompanied on an 8′ Principal, with Pedal 16′ and 8′ in the manner of a Bach chorale prelude. It was magnificent! 4. Aria: Cantus Firmus Alto was a quiet little thing on what were, I believe, flutes 8′ and 4′. 5. Organo Pleno, c.f. Tenor, and what an organo pleno it was. Then we sang the hymn New hymns of celebration (Rendez à Dieu). Rübsam never used the same harmonization twice in playing this tune. Brilliant! His leadership was extraordinary.
Next, Bach’s Pièce d’Orgue, BWV 572. I’m especially fond of the Gravement section, as it was played at our wedding when my wife came down the aisle. Rübsam made this great music lift us to higher realms as it moved through the great spaces of the building. The Lentement was like a huge peal of bells.
Rübsam closed this extraordinary recital with two movements from Widor’s Symphonie III in E Minor. The Adagio was a welcome relief from the much louder music that preceded it. The 32′ purred under strings and a solo flute, for a lovely effect. Finale pierced the quiet spell cast by the Adagio and he was off—incredible and brilliant playing. I was reminded of notes I took after hearing him play at the Dallas AGO convention in 1994 on the Fisk organ at SMU. His playing transported us to a place where we could see into another realm greater than our own, but being ordinary mortals, we had to turn back and wait our time. It was an awe-inspiring evening!
Saturday, June 26
This was an extra day for the convention, so the group was smaller, but we had a full and interesting time. We began in the charming town of West Newton (est. in 1731) at the First United Methodist Church to hear its 1905 Austin organ (tubular pneumatic), with 2 manuals and 11 ranks. Three young men played: Joseph Tuttle, Dimitri Sampas, and Adam Gruber. Sadly, the room’s acoustic is quite dead, but the organ held its own and has many beautiful sounds. Gruber went first with a Rheinberger trio, but the organ decided to add a bit of its own in the form of a cipher on what sounded like a 16′ Gedackt in the pedal. In spite of that, he played with good attention to the independent lines. He then played a Passacaglia by his teacher, Dennis Northway (who does a superb job shepherding the young Biggs Fellows at these conventions). The piece has many humorous elements: twitters and trills. Sampas played an Offertory by Boëllmann, and the Mendelssohn Prelude and Fugue in G. The Boëllmann was played on the 8′ Open Diapason—a big, bold sound—alternating with the Swell Geigen 8′. He moved the Mendelssohn along nicely, and kept the many strands of the fugue in order. Tuttle proved to be quite a skilled improviser. He used a hymn composed by a founder of this church. We heard more of this organ’s sounds—the strings and flutes were attractive. The improvisation was well conceived and well played!
Our next destination was back in Pittsburgh: Holy Rosary Roman Catholic/St. Charles Lwanga Parish, occupying a very handsome Ralph Adams Cram Gothic building from 1930. The first organ was a 2-manual, 48-register 1901 Hook & Hastings from their previous church. Presently, there is a 1956 3-manual Casavant, Opus 2311, located in a front side gallery. The church finds itself nowadays in an African-American neighborhood, so there are beautiful African sacred art objects decorating the building. Recitalist Jonathan Ryan began with a spirited performance of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D Major, BWV 532 at breakneck speed—he took off like a rocket! The prelude ended mp. The fugue continued at the same tempo, but with full plenum. The organ is very typical of Casavants of this period: a warm, clear tone. The closing section brought things to ff and full pedal. Sadly, there was a cipher.
Next was a charming French noël: Où s’en vont ces gais bergers? by Claude Balbastre. The organ was well suited to this literature. I wish he hadn’t used the shades on the softer parts, as they rendered them nearly inaudible because fans were running (but were finally turned off; churches need to be instructed on using fans during organ conventions). I wish more performers would use these marvelous noëls; they are great demonstration pieces. His playing was excellent. Next, in Pastorale and Toccata (1991) by David Conte, the generous acoustic of this tall stone space enhanced the Great Hohlflöte 8′ with the Swell strings in a pensive section. A livelier section followed, with a return to the flutes. Ryan played it with great movement and feeling. The Toccata started with somewhat dissonant chords. He controlled all the elements very well.
The hymn was My song is love unknown to the tune by John Ireland, Love Unknown. Then came something completely different: George Shearing’s I Love Thee, Lord. He closed with The World Awaiting the Savior from Dupré’s Passion Symphony, op. 23. Alas, the cipher returned; a pity, as it ruined the recording of an otherwise fine performance.
We then went to Trinity Lutheran Church, on the north side of Pittsburgh, whose present building dates from 1960. The organ stands in the back of the smallish church: a charming Jardine from 1863 that had quite a history of moves here and there; 2 manuals and an 18-note pedalboard, and 11 stops. The case was honey colored, and the façade pipes were painted a deep maroon. Christopher J. Howerter began with Opening Voluntary by James Cox Beckel (1811–1880), which featured a broad, warm sound. For Trumpet Air, by James Bremner (d. 1780), the blower was turned off and the organ was pumped by hand. The blower came back on for The Sufferings of the Queen of France, op. 23 by Jan Ladislav Dussek (1760–1812). This was programmatic music “expressing the feelings of the unfortunate Marie Antoinette, during her imprisonment, trial . . .” Scherzo, from Grand Sonata in E-flat by Dudley Buck, was nicely played and showed the organ well. The hymn followed: Rejoice, the Lord Is King! (Jubilate). He ended with Postlude in C by Walter H. Lewis (fl. 1890s). This was a real period piece, sounding like something a community band would play on a Sunday afternoon concert in a park. It sounded great on this organ, bringing out all its personality. We then had a hymn sing of some early Western Pennsylvania hymns.
After dinner, the final concert of the convention was held at Eastminster Presbyterian Church. The organ was a 4-manual, 1955 Aeolian-Skinner, Opus 1266 with six divisions, situated at the front of the church. The Steinway Model D was courtesy of Trombino Piano Gallerie. Performers were Neal Stahurski, organ, and Yeeha Chiu, piano. Stahurski began the evening with an arrangement of Simple Gifts by Charles Callahan that was grand and spacious and would please most any congregation. Chiu then played two pieces by Chopin: Polonaise in C-sharp Minor, op. 26, no. 1, and Waltz in C-sharp Minor, op. 64, no. 2. She is a fine player and showed good attention to musical detail and line.
Stahurski returned to play a Gerald Near arrangement of the Largo from Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor, which featured piano and organ. I especially liked the beautiful Oboe stop, which sounded delightful alongside a solo flute in this very familiar music. We then heard the organ alone in a three-movement Suite by Jehan Alain. I. Introduction et Variations used flutes and soft foundation stops in dialogue; the variations explored other sounds in the organ. II. Scherzo began on a flute stretching into the octatonic-scale harmonies Alain loved so much. Then the quicker notes took over and he leapt about on the Swell reeds, and played with great flourish! III. Chorale began with widely spaced chords. Stahurski controlled it all very well, leading to a full sound, then backing away. A crashing big chord brought to a close.
A piano piece followed that was not listed, and I did not catch the name. Then Duo Concertant for piano and organ by Naji Hakim; they played the second movement, Andante. It is very clever, bouncy music that used the piano and organ sonorities quite well. The organ registrations were snappy and charming. Both piano and organ sounded surprisingly well in the heavily cushioned and carpeted room. We then heard piano and organ in an arrangement by David Schwoebel of It is well with my soul. If your church sings this hymn, they will enjoy this grand setting. Pure Technicolor! We then sang Eternal Father, Strong to Save. Stahurski played it very well; his last verse was ablaze with light and color.
The concert ended with Dupré’s Variations on two themes for piano and organ, op. 35, which used a host of colors from the instruments. Challenging music for both artists: the organ sounding like an orchestra in both a leading and subordinate role, the piano, likewise. This was a brilliant end to the concert and to the convention.
Overall, it was a good convention. The hotel, food, transportation, venues, instruments, and artists were first rate. The 186-page Atlas was filled with fascinating essays, information, and fine photography; the program booklet was well laid out—I liked the performers’ bios and photographs at the back of the book, saving more space for specifications and programs; and the hymnlets were large and easy to read. My hat is off to the fine committee who put the convention together and made it run smoothly.
For future conventions, I would suggest that there be consistency in the listing of something as simple as number of stops and ranks. That is not always apparent. Also, OHS convention speakers should wait until everyone is seated before making announcements, use a microphone, and talk slowly, especially in reverberant rooms. Buses should not move about during concerts when church windows are open, thus ruining recordings and performances. Finally, I’d like us to go back to the practice of ringing the churches’ bells before the concerts start. It is another introduction to a musical and often historical sound the building can make.
I look forward to this summer when the OHS will be in Washington, D.C. It should be another fine event! OHS conventions are always a great bargain, with world-class instruments and performers, outstanding scholarship, and great food. Everything is done for you. See you in D.C.! ■
Photos by Len Levasseur