Baroque organ debuts to full houses in Anabel Taylor

Nov. 23, 2010
Baroque organ debuts to full houses in Anabel Taylor
Baroque Organ

Lindsay France/University Photography
The baroque organ in Anabel Taylor Chapel.
By Linda Glaser

The first public performances of the new baroque organ in Anabel Taylor Chapel were met with lavish praise from players, project leaders and audience members who filled the chapel for two concerts held Nov. 21.

The concerts marked the culmination of a nearly 10-year project that involved more than 100 people on two continents. The interdisciplinary effort to construct the instrument using authentic 18th-century techniques included local craftspeople, the Göteborg Organ Art Center (GOArt) at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and Cornell’s Department of Music, which commissioned the organ.

“It’s not really the end of the project. It’s really just the beginning of all the music making that will follow,” said Annette Richards, project leader, professor of music and university organist, at the debut concert. Interest in hearing the organ was so high that two concerts were scheduled, one at 3 p.m. and one at 5:30 p.m., and more than 40 seats had to be added at the last minute to handle the overflow crowd. Although the organist is normally hidden from view when the organ is played, a camera and screen setup showed the organists playing. One of the reasons for the elaborate beauty of many organ cases, Richards said, is that the organist is hidden from view. “One listens differently when not looking at the performer,” she said.

Four bellows located in the chapel’s tower are also invisible to the audience, and must be worked manually. Three volunteers took turns foot-pumping the bellows during the concerts.

“Depending on what stops the organists pull, the wind pressure demands are different,” said Lorraine Fitzmaurice ’13, one of the pumpers. “So when they use the pedal a lot, all of a sudden the bellows start going much faster and you have to keep up. But you use your body weight, so it’s not terribly strenuous.”

Audience members of all ages praises the organ and the players. “Phenomenal,” said Dorette Thompson, a retired resident of McGraw, N.Y. “I’ve never heard an organ do so many different things.” And 7-year-old Triston Hare said it was “really, really cool.”

Munetaka Yokota, the organ’s designer, builder and chief researcher, was pleased with the organ’s performance, though he noted a brief problem with tuning caused by a cold draft coming through open doors at the start of the first concert. The incident highlighted a need for climate control in the chapel, said Richards.

The concert program included works by Buxtehude, Bach, Handel, Mendelssohn, Krebs and Kellner, and provided each of the three organists an opportunity to display the versatility of the organ’s range. Richards, who played first, drew delicate sounds from the organ but also displayed its dramatic side. David Yearsley, professor of music and university organist, introduced his new arrangements with a tongue-in-cheek description of why Handel didn’t compose for organ pedals. “I have given Handel back his feet,” Yearsley announced, and proceeded to play a fugue almost entirely on the pedals, a virtuoso performance that set the audience to cheering. “There are not too many people on the face of the Earth who can play the pedals like that,” Neal Zaslaw, the Herbert Gussman Professor of Music, said after the concert.

Guest artist Jacques van Oortmerssen received a standing ovation for his performance, which local resident Hedvig Lockwood described as “gentle, smooth and tender.”

Oortmerssen commented after the concert that more skill is required to play a baroque organ than a contemporary instrument. “Many modern organs have very limited character,” he explained. “This one can be powerful, sweet, lovely, tender, proud — it has many voices. You will not be bored when you play it, or when you listen.”

Linda Glaser is a staff writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

 

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