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Albert Schweitzer Organ Festival Hartford 2023: High School Division Competition

February 20, 2024
Competition jury and competitors
Front row: Sarah Ku, Daniel Colaner, Henry Dangerfield; back row: Robert Bausmith, Monica Berney, Michael Hey, Nathaniel Gumbs, Christopher Houlihan (photo credit: Ray Shaw)

Alan MacMillan is a Connecticut-based organist and composer whose works have been published by Paraclete Press, Augsburg, and Lorenz. He has served on the board of the Albert Schweitzer Organ Festival Hartford since 2022.

On September 22–23, 2023, the high school division competition of the Albert Schweitzer Organ Festival Hartford (ASOFH) returned to Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, for the first time since 2018. This biennial competition was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic and was held virtually in 2021.

Three prodigiously gifted teenage organists impressed with playing that one might have expected from more seasoned artists. The common repertoire for each competitor consisted of Prelude and Fugue in G Major, BWV 541, by Johann Sebastian Bach, and “Andante Sostenuto” from Symphonie gothique, opus 70, by Charles-Marie Widor. As well, each player was required to perform a contrasting work composed after 1937 of their choice.

First prize and $7,500 went to Daniel Colaner of Ohio, a member of The Diapason’s 20 Under 30 Class of 2021, whose contrasting work was Scherzo Symphonique, by Pierre Cochereau, originally a virtuosic improvisation from 1974 later transcribed by Jeremy Filsell. A high school senior, Daniel is already a veteran of the concert hall and television as well as a winner in other organ competitions. He is a student of David Higgs at the Eastman School of Music.

Sarah Ku of New York, who is currently a student at the Groton School in Groton, Massachusetts, won second prize and $3,500. “Saraband for the Morning of Easter” from Six Pieces for Organ, number 2 (1953), by Herbert Howells, was her contrasting work. Sarah has studied in England and has received a number of awards and scholarships. She is a student of Daniel Moriarty.

Third prize and $1,500 was awarded to fifteen-year-old Henry Dangerfield of Minnesota. Henry is a student of Raymond Johnston and has attended the Curtis Summer Organ Intensive in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as has Sarah Ku. His choice selection was “Fugue” from Prélude et Fugue sur le nom d’Alain, opus 7, by Maurice Duruflé.

Daniel and Henry competed for the David C. Spicer Hymn Playing Prize by accompanying the assembled audience in “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” to the tune St. Denio. Henry won the $1,500 prize named in memory of the festival’s co-founder who was known for his passion for hymns and hymn playing. Henry also received the audience prize of $250 decided by paper ballot.

The jury of this final round of the competition consisted of Monica Berney (née Czausz), a graduate of the Curtis Institute and Rice University and currently director of music at Saint Paul’s Parish, K Street, Washington, D.C.; Nathaniel Gumbs, who holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the Eastman School of Music and currently serves as director of chapel music at Yale University; and Michael Hey, a Juilliard graduate currently music director for Marble Collegiate Church in New York City and formerly associate director of music at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. Berney and Hey are members of The Diapason’s 20 Under 30 Class of 2016, Gumbs the Class of 2017.

In addition to the competition, the festival was bookended by an opening recital by 2022 ASOFH young professional first prize and audience prize winner Bruce Xu and a closing festival concert featuring the combined choirs of Chorus Angelicus and Gaudeamus of Torrington, the Trinity College Chapel Singers, and the Choirs of Saint Patrick-Saint Anthony Catholic Church of Hartford. Chorus Angelicus and Gaudeamus director Gabriel Löfvall conducted, with ASOFH artistic director and Trinity College organist and director of chapel music Christopher Houlihan (a member of The Diapason’s 20 Under 30 inaugural class) at the organ.

Bruce Xu played an eclectic and engaging program for a large and appreciative audience that offered a combination of standard repertoire works: Choral Varié sur le thème du “Veni Creator” by Duruflé, Felix Mendelssohn’s Andante with Variations in D, and Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor, BWV 582, with transcriptions of lighter works ranging from Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 to Bésame Mucho by Consuelo Velázquez. The festival concert featured a rich and varied program with brass choir and percussion augmenting the choirs and organ, performed for a capacity crowd.

An all-too-rare performance of Heinrich Schütz’s double choir setting of Psalm 100, Jauchzet dem Herren, alle Welt, in this case with the brass acting as the second choir, opened the concert with stirring effect. A Villancico, or Spanish carol, Tlecantimo choquiliya, by the Portuguese composer Gaspar Fernandes, roughly a Schütz contemporary, transported the audience to a rustic Mexican village replete with the appropriate percussion. Daniel Colaner then reprised his performance of the Cochereau Scherzo Symphonique, dispatching it with the same élan as he had during the competition. Two of Marcel Dupré’s Quatre Motets, opus 9, “Ave Maria” and “Laudate” (Psalm 117), leant a devotional character to the close of the first half of the concert. After intermission, organ and brass were heard on their own in the Introduction and Chorale by American composer Louie White (1929–1979). Benjamin Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb provided a moving finale; at once humorous, entertaining, full of pathos, and brilliantly performed, it was a triumph for all involved.

On September 21–22, 2024, the young professional division competition returns to Trinity College. Open to organists age twenty-six and younger, the competition awards $29,000 in prizes. The weekend will also feature Christopher Houlihan, organist, and the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Carolyn Kuan, conductor, performing Howard Hanson’s Concerto for Organ, Strings, and Harp and Alexandre Guilmant’s Symphony No. 1 for Organ and Orchestra. For more information, please visit www.ASOFHartford.org.

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