Review of Aaron Tan Recital

Review of Aaron Tan Recital

Review: Aaron Tan Recital

by Alan MacMillan

The latest in the Greater Hartford A.G.O. roster of events was a recital I almost did not attend but was so glad I did. Aaron Tan, the 2018 First Prize winner of the A.G.O. National Young Artists Competition, played a brilliant and fascinating program at the Newington Congregational Church on Sunday afternoon, November 10.

In addition to his accomplishments as a virtuoso organist, Mr. Tan is an accomplished violinist, and, if that were not enough, holds a Ph.D in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of Michigan. He is currently furthering his studies at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music while serving as Organ Scholar at the Church of the Resurrection in New York City.

Mr. Tan, without prior announcement, launched his recital with a dazzling performance of the Joseph Jongen Toccata, op. 104, surprising the audience since the program listed the Vierne 3rd Symphony, 1st movement as the opener. The artist explained afterward that he hoped no one minded the change since, at the last minute, he felt that the Toccata was a better choice to precede the Prière, also by Jongen (from Quatre Pièces, op. 37) and I’m sure the audience agreed.

The Prière featured the lovely soft strings of the church’s 1967 Moller, as re-built by the Austin Organ Service Company in 2007, and highlighted some of the most treasured harmonic, expressive qualities of this composer.

In a shift back to the technically brilliant, Jeanne Demessieux’s Notes répétées, No. 5 from Six Études, op. 5, featured rapidly repeated pedal notes, which, as noted by the artist in his spoken program notes, not all instruments are capable of executing even for the best of performers. Not content with the pedal fireworks, the manual writing employed bright, widely spaced broken chords producing an effect which was as entertaining as it was technically awe-inspiring.

Continuing in a more serious vein, the true centerpiece of the recital was the rarely heard Paysages Euskariens, (Landscapes of the Basque region), by Joseph-Ermend Bonnal. As Tan observed in his comments, Bonnal is unjustly overlooked as a composer, despite a respectably sizable output of compositions. As an organist he was the successor to Tournemire at St. Clotilde in Paris and much lauded by Louis Vierne. The Paysages have no doubt been neglected in part because the set was “runner-up” to Duruflé’s Veni Creator triptych in a contest sponsored by the Parisian Amis de l’orgue in 1930. Nonetheless, the set is a major work, the style being as close to truly impressionist as that evinced by any other composer of the time. The final of the three movements: Cloches dans le ciel (Bells in the heavens) is a true tour de force; a kind of mega-carillon with bell figures of differing speeds and characters played across the pedalboard as well as the manuals with a toute la force ending.

Tan, a Toronto-born Canadian himself and a champion of Canadian music, opened the second half of the recital with the Poème Symphoniqie pour le Temps de L’Avent by the contemporary French-Canadian organist and composer Rachel Laurin. Based partly on the Gregorian Chant melody known best from its presence in modern hymnals as Creator of the stars of night, the work began with a kind of cheeky, fluttering disguise of the melody in the high register. In combination with a Gregorian phrase from an Advent Kyrie, it then made its way through a number of variations to colorful effect.

A mid-recital “bon-bon” in this almost entirely Gallic program was the Farandole from Bizet’s L’Arlesienne Suite No. 2 in a most effective transcription by Joel Hastings.

Both with the Bonnal suite and in his next work, the obscure Trio No. 5 in D by Johann Gottfried Fierling (1750-1813), Mr. Tan revealed an ongoing interest in uncovering unknown gems of the organ literature. This lone German work on the program was a highly melodic and charming piece very much in the classical style (as opposed to the baroque style associated with the Bach trio sonatas).

The Final from Vierne’s 6th and last symphony closed the program with its madcap send-up of French Symphonic writing; irreverent, almost jazzy at times and unlike any other well-behaved French final movements… especially with its Big Band chord of the added sixth at the end. Tan’s performance was a model of virtuosity.

The appreciative audience was rewarded by an encore: a Canadian composer’s take on Lord of the Dance, aka the Shaker tune, Simple Gifts, by John Burge from 1993. The setting consisted of a racing triplet moto perpetuo in the right hand with the folk melody joining in from time to time in the left. The composer’s model might perhaps have been the Nun freu euch, lieben Christen, BWV 734, chorale prelude of Bach. In any case, it was a cheerful closer to a most satisfying afternoon of organ playing.

Next Chapter Event: Jeremy Filsell in Concert

Next Chapter Event: Jeremy Filsell in Concert

Next Chapter Event: 

Jeremy Filsell, in concert
Organist and Director of Music at St Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, New York
Friday, January 24, 2020, 7:30pm
St. James’s Episcopal Church, 1018 Farmington Avenue, West Hartford

British organist and pianist Jeremy Filsell’s playing is described as “world class” “flawless” and of “exceptional virtuosity.” Don’t miss this remarkable performer as he explores the full range of the newly enlarged and re-voiced Austin organ here at St James’s. Co-Sponsored with Concerts at St. James’s.

December Deanery

December Deanery

Deanery

By Vaughn Mauren

As we approach Christmas I cannot help but reflect on the many musical gifts found within Greater Hartford. With so many talented musicians in this region, we are lucky that our chapter community has come to be defined by sharing resources, fostering teamwork, and collegiality.

As your chapter board met this fall, we took inventory of what we offer Greater Hartford, and we asked ourselves how we can better reach out to non-members and grow our audience. The first step was taken last year when we hired Sarah Johnston to serve as our marketing consultant and publicist. She has done an extraordinary job of expanding our chapter presence and she has linked us to several area arts organizations. As a byproduct of modern connectivity, building an ecosystem of shared resources and publicity is easier than ever before, and we are taking advantage of this.

As a second step, our chapter board recently voted to hire Ouliana Ermolova – an extraordinarily talented graphic designer based out of Detroit – to build a completely new website, graphic identity and logo suite for our chapter. Her goal, as directed by the chapter board and website committee, is to communicate a highly professional image within our community and create a user-friendly and modern website providing up-to-date information about concerts, events, resources and membership to new audiences and potential members. By the end of this project, we fully expect to have the best chapter website!

The project is expected to wrap up by late Spring with a website launch around the time of our annual meeting river cruise. Until then, have a wonderful Christmas, Hannukah, and New Year!

Pipescreams! Turns 30

Pipescreams! Turns 30

Pipescreams! Turns 30

Review by Ray Giolitto

How fitting is was to have Ed Clark play the “required” first piece at the October 25th Pipescreams, Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.” Ed began Pipescreams with the same piece thirty years ago. Adorned with black cape with a red lining (was Virgil’s ghost present?) and black top hat, Ed’s nimble fingers and toes gave us a rousing start to the yearly spooktacular Halloween concert.

Our longtime Mistress of Sorrow-moan-ees, Meg Smith, as Sister Benedict, treated us to her attentive introductions of each piece and organist, and included her always-entertaining metaphors and comments along the way.

With Jim Barry on the program, we always wonder what obscure and entertaining piece he will find each year. With his skeleton mask facing the audience as he played, we were treated to a bit of nostalgia with the “Fugue in F minor,” commonly known as the theme from “The Munsters,” composed by Jack Marshall. Many in the audience were smiling and humming along, including those that remember the original television production and the little folks that have now been treated with the movie revivals of that madcap family.

The first of three “cat” organists, Susan Carroll, expertly showed off the St. John organ’s beautiful Vox Humana stop, with tremolo, of course, to present Anton Heiller’s “Tanz-Toccata.” This piece, not familiar to many, had the purr-fect scariness, with crashy-clashy chords, unpredictable shifting of meter and, surprisingly, some “sing-able” tunes. It was quite a trick to play with some fabulous treats as a result.

Mr. “Quid pro Quo,” Peter Niedemann, with his “de Bergerac” mask, played “Pickled Boys” from Benjamin Britten’s St. Nicolas. In this movement of the piece, Saint Nicolas stops a group of travellers and the bishop from eating at an inn, knowing that the meat is the flesh of three boys murdered and pickled by the butcher. Nicolas calls to the three boys and they come back to life and sing an “Alleluia.” This was an appropriate piece for our young and young-at-heart to parade around the church, throwing candy to the crowd and, thankfully, all remained unscathed after their march!

Our second “cat” organist, Cheryl Wadsworth, expertly played the “Intermezzo” from Symphony I of Charles-Marie Widor. The pedal line, supported with the dark harmonies of the constant 16th notes on the manuals, was another purr-fect Pipescreams piece. Indeed, I’m sure that I was not the only one to have an earworm with Widor’s pedal tune.

“Cat” number three, Kari Miller, entertained us with Domenico Scarlatti’s “Cat Fugue,” (Fugue in G minor). It is no wonder that the motif of the piece is a bit unusual. His cat, Pulcinella, who enjoyed walking on the harpsichord keyboard, supposedly inspired Scarlatti. Needless to say, Kari was quite cat-like with her deft performance.

Vaughn Mauren dedicated the final piece to our Mistress of Sorrow-moan-ees. Vaughn played another seemingly “required” piece for Pipescreams, the “Toccata” from Suite Gothique by Léon Boëllmann. The piece was played beautifully, with a bit slower tempo than typical, which, in my opinion, gave the listener greater appreciation of the rhythmic intracies of the second theme of the piece. This was a truly fitting close to the 30th Pipescreams!

A very nice reception followed with lots of goodies and social time.

Special thanks to St. John’s and host Scott Lamlein, the organists, lighting, decorations and reception volunteers.

Next Chapter Event: Aaron Tan

Next Chapter Event: Aaron Tan

Next Chapter Event: 

ANNUAL YOUNG ARTIST RECITAL
Aaron Tan, organist
Sunday, November 10, 4:00pm
Church of Christ, Congregational
1075 Main Street, Newington, Connecticut

Aaron Tan, organist, is the winner of the AGO Young Artist Competition and Organ Scholar at Church of the Resurrection, New York City. Music of Bizet, Vierne, Jongen, and more. Free admission. newingtonucc.org

November Deanery

November Deanery

Deanery

By Vaughn Mauren

We all have stories from Sunday mornings gone wild. Church can sometimes feel out of control, or perhaps out of YOUR control! With this in mind, a recent performance of Orfeo and Euridice at the Metropolitan Opera reminded me that things can go wrong anywhere and at any time. And they really did go wrong.

Granted, there were many peculiar choices in the production itself. Chief among them was that the magnificent chorus sat on three tiers of glorified choir risers for the entire opera, nervously sitting still as the risers were wheeled into various configurations by stage hands who, between tasks, sat on stage looking dejected.

Even still, we thought it odd that in the midst of a tender recitative in which Orfeo stood starkly alone on stage bearing his soul, a four-story metal staircase was lowered from the rafters. The staircase hit the floor with a loud clang, teetered back and forth as chorus and conductor appeared arrested, and was promptly retracted. You could almost hear the production crew nervously ask, “no one saw that, right?”

Then came the next scene. As Orfeo tried to lead Euridice out of Underworld, the fine mezzo-soprano stopped singing in the middle of a phrase. The conductor stopped the orchestra, the rotating set began swiveling toward stage right, the curtain lowered, and the audience sat in silence. General Manager Peter Gelb informed us that “a performer was in distress.” But I did wonder if this was actually true given that all three principals reappeared ten minutes later, as did the entire chorus and the dancers. Perhaps Peter wouldn’t admit that his production staff was in the midst of a collective brain aneurism.

The lesson here is that no amount of resources or rehearsal time ensures perfection. Pastors, priests, choristers, acolytes, and volunteers try their best. Our job is to take it on the chin enjoy telling the story for years to come because the show must always go on.

A History and Reflections on the Chapter Newsletter

A History and Reflections on the Chapter Newsletter

A History and Reflections on the Chapter Newsletter

By Edward Clark

In September of 1957 the Hartford Chapter AGO published its first monthly newsletter which was called “AGO NEWS.” The editor was Frank K. Honey at First Church of Christ, Congregational in New Britain. Frank continued editing through the May 1961 issue in which he announced he was leaving for a new position in North Carolina. The incoming Dean of the chapter, William Gable of Central Baptist Church, Hartford, took over as editor, starting a tradition that lasted through the deanships of John Bullough, David Harper, John Holtz, Raymond Glover, John Doney, Richard Einsel, and Edward Clark.

In 1975 the new Dean, Lorraine Revelle at First Church of Christ, Congregational, New Britain, assigned the job of newsletter editor to Tom Schmutzler. Tom renamed the newsletter “The Chatter Vox” and his issues frequently contained copies of “items dug up out of old music mags to help keep things in perspective for us.” Tom also added frequent witty editorial comments to the content such as the following paragraph from the Dean’s greeting in their first issue:

“If you noticed the new look about the newsletter, it’s thanks to Tom Schmutzler, our new newsletter editor. (Hear! Hear!, if you haven’t you better look again. ed.) I want to welcome him officially with this issue and express my appreciation for his talent and his time. (All this before she even saw it – what faith! ed.)”

In 1977 the editor’s job went back to the chapter Deans: Gail Pedersen, James Frazier, Bruce Henley and Janet Morse. The next big change came in November of 1984, when Phillip C. Simmons took over as editor. Phil was the first editor to use desktop publishing software and as he described his tenure: “I like to think that [the Chattervox] has developed into a house organ (a publishing term) that is at once appealing to the eye, easy to read, informative, and entertaining.” He created the legal-size paper format – two sheets folded in half to make eight pages. Phil also introduced the small toolbox graphic that has accompanied Mike Foley’s articles ever since then. Phil’s last issue was March 1990 and once again the Dean, Jim Barry, had to step in for a few issues.
That brings us to September of 1990 and the start of my tenure of twenty-nine years as editor with constant help from my wife, Joan Pritchard, as co-editor. We were given charge of the newsletter with two conditions: we were to get it out on time and we were not to editorialize.
Back then, information about chapter doings were submitted to us by the Dean, and sometimes items of interest were sent to us by chapter members. But much space was left to us to craft as needed.  In the early days Joan wrote articles on various topics, including interviews with Gillian Weir, Michael Lankester of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, John Rose, Meg Irwin-Brandon, David Connell – then a staff member of Yale’s Institute of Sacred Music, James Biery on handling the funeral for Archbishop Whealon. Most memorable was an ongoing series on “How did you get started?” in which Joan discovered that many members had started out on the Hammond organ. Chapter members often contributed advice in a Reader’s Column or wrote about their conference and convention adventures. Eventually the Board took responsibility for producing most of the material, thus easing the burden on the editors. But throughout, Joan doggedly compiled endless lists of events every month from material submitted by members. The inclusion of printed advertising flyers for a small fee opened a new publicity source for both organizations and members, and added to the stuffing chores for our earnest Chattervox Assemblers.
The newsletter changed radically in 2015 with the decision to go all digital and use email, which reduced the workload enormously and introduced the wonders of full color. This change allowed others with computer skills to easily lay out the newsletter with a professional look and email it instantly. No longer did we have to figure out how to fit everything exactly into eight pages and then run to the 24-hour Kinko’s in Hartford to get the newsletter printed in time for the envelope stuffing.It was the privilege of producing this newsletter that launched our careers in desktop publishing. Joan and I both learned skills in graphic design and layout, digital photographic printing, writing, editing and print production that we have since used with other organizations. Plus, we had a front row seat to the happenings of the chapter. I am grateful to the chapter leadership for putting their confidence in us.

I also want to thank the many individuals who have helped to make the newsletter succeed.

  • Mike Foley, for his monthly Toolbox articles, which began prior to my tenure.
  • Dale Eberhardt, our staff photographer, for all the excellent photos he took (and continues to take) of chapter events.
  • The various chapter Deans for their monthly columns, which almost always have been thoughtful and well-written.
  • The Chattervox Assemblers who for the twenty-five years before the digital editions took over had to fold and stuff the newsletter and flyers into envelopes that then needed a label and sealing before delivery to the post office. We didn’t always have the print copy ready for them to easily process and mail by the first of the month, which sometimes involved some heroics. Those that we remember include Peter NiedmannMichael Wustrow’s ladies at St. Mary’s in Newington, Will KanutePat Wilson and Joyce Wagner, and most recently Meg Smith who got smart and put US on a deadline!
  • All the members who have submitted articles, reviews, event listings and more.
  • And the chaplains who provided their perspectives for a period of time.
After thirty-one years (twenty-nine since 1990 plus the two years when I was Dean), I am happy to turn over the editor position to Scott Lamlein knowing that he will do a great job!
A Recap of the Annual Dinner and Meeting

A Recap of the Annual Dinner and Meeting

A Recap of the Annual Dinner and Meeting

By Meg Smith

Chapter members and friends gathered on Tuesday, May 21 at the Pond House in West Hartford to share a meal, review the activities of the last year, vote in new board members, and otherwise enjoy each other’s company as church and school and synagogue duties begin to wane for the summer and provide some moment of relaxation.

We were joined together with words of thanks for food, fellowship, and planning offered by the Rev. Benjamin Straley who touched on the themes for our time together wonderfully. This reviewer is particularly grateful that these words were inclusive, rather than sectarian. The dinner was delicious enough that a brief wait for the buffet line went totally unnoticed.

Dean Peter Niedmann called us from the joys of eating and conversation to the business at hand. He reminded us of the many good programs, concerts, and workshops that took place this past 2018-2019 season. Secretary Noah Smithaddressed the review of last year’s minutes and the proposed slate of officers and we passed those with efficiency, dispatch and humor. As of July 1, 2019, our Executive Board will include: Vaughn Mauren, Dean; Benjamin Straley, Sub-Dean; Noah Smith, Secretary; Bob Bausmith, Treasurer; and Members-at-Large Susan Carroll (2020), Scott Lamlein (2021) and Michelle Horsley (2022). The devoted work of our webmaster Ally Barone and several other supporting members were acknowledged, as was the term of Alan MacMillan, retiring as a member-at-large.

Our treasurer, Bob Bausmith, reviewed this past year’s actual spending, which came in just under budget. He explained the proposed budget for the upcoming year, which is showing a potential deficit of $22,000 due to an ambitious programming event plus the expansion of the private organ study scholarship program. The additional expenses will be covered by investments. David Mangs, our investment advisor, was quite happy to report that our portfolio is doing well. As of May 9, 2019, the portfolio was worth $986,116.16.

Peter Niedmann then returned to comment on the completion of his term as Dean, which was a privilege for him and a job made easier by everyone on the board and committees. He acknowledged Joanne Coghill’s presence and the tremendous loss of our longtime member John Coghill this past year. John had a larger-than-life personality and his absence at a meeting that he would have been in the middle of planning was keenly felt. Mike Foley delivered a written report submitted by Gabriel Löfvall, committee chair of the Jolidon Sub-Committee, who could not be present. Gabriel reported that the members of the committee are enjoying their job tremendously and all have decided to remain aboard. Their job is to assist the Chapter Board in expending the funds available to us. (See separate article for a list of grant recipients.)

Peter wrapped up his comments by giving special awards to Edward Clark and Joan Pritchard who are retiring as co-editors of the newsletter, a job they have done for 29 years. They each received a large, diamond-like crystal with the AGO logo engraved on it.

Vaughn Mauren, who will be our new Dean on July 1st, gave us a preview of next year’s programs. The most expensive and arguably the most exciting program is the first one – a joint production with the Albert Schweitzer Organ Festival. The opening concert will feature the Hartford Symphony Orchestra with Carolyn Kuan, conductor, and Christopher Houlihan as the organ soloist in works by Joseph Jongen and C.M. Widor. They will perform twice – Friday, Sept. 27 and Sunday, Sept. 29. Tickets are available now at www.hartfordsymphony.org. (Discount ticket code ASOF2019 takes $5 off the $30 general admission tickets; this code is for use by chapter members only.) The year continues with Pipescreams at St. John’s Episcopal Church in West Hartford (Friday, Oct. 25). The annual young artist recital will feature Aaron Tan at Church of Christ, Cong. in Newington (Sunday, Nov. 10). Jeremy Filsell will be presented in recital at St. James’s in West Hartford (Friday, Oct. 25). Piping Hot: From Piano to Organ, a daylong workshop for pianists, will take place at the First Church of Christ in Farmington (Sat., Feb. 8). Simon Johnsonfrom St. Paul’s in London will play at St. John’s in West Hartford (Friday, Feb. 21). Chelsea Chen will appear at Trinity College Chapel (Friday, March 27). And the Annual Meeting will feature a dinner cruise on the Lady Katherine departing from Middletown at 6 pm, Tuesday, May 19. Be sure to put that one on your calendar!

In other remarks, Meg Smith from the Nominating Committee offered her gratitude to all of those who have served on the hospitality committee last year and those who agreed to step up this year. It is an important and not inconsiderable job.

By the end of the meeting, everyone had enjoyed their dessert of chocolate cake, a vast improvement over the hardshell fruit tarts that flummoxed everyone last year. The time of adjournment was not noted by this writer, but it came at the right point in the evening. Several people happily lingered a bit to look through old scrapbooks from the chapter archives and to milk the last few moments of a lovely time together

June Deanery

June Deanery

Deanery

By Peter Niedmann

Well, here we are—the end of church choir season (for many of us). The congregations dwindle, many choirs go silent, and for some fortunate folks—the air-conditioning kicks in! I always enjoy this time of year. We can look back, hopefully with satisfaction, at a job well done. And we can look forward to a couple months of a slower pace, more free time, and the chance to relax and recharge.This month has an extra layer of change in it for me. On June 30, my time serving on the AGO Greater Hartford Chapter board ends—member-at-large for 2 years, Sub-Dean for 2 years, and Dean for 2 years.  It has been a very satisfying experience. The people I served with are smart, creative, passionate, funny, kind, and completely committed to organ and church music. I will miss our monthly meetings, when in addition to the work of the chapter, we had the chance to chat, laugh, and share stories about our various work situations. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to help celebrate and promote the organ in the region.

Thank you to every person on the board and beyond who gave of themselves to further our mission. We are all part of a very special AGO chapter, and should be so grateful for this.

Our new Dean, Vaughn Mauren, and board members, will work hard to present inspiring and creative events for the membership and general public. I look forward to next season—amazing concerts, workshops, a Pipe Organ Encounter for young organists from around the country, and even a river cruise.

Best wishes to you for a wonderful summer!

Review of Faythe Freese Recital

Review of Faythe Freese Recital

Review of Faythe Freese Recital

by Ray Giolitto

On Sunday, April 7, 2019, Faythe Freese played an organ recital on the Aeolian-Skinner organ at Hartford’s Asylum Hill Congregational Church. The single-sentence program note about the opening piece was an excellent indication of what we were about to hear during her entire recital. “Fanfare for Organ, featuring syncopated rhythms, is the perfect work to showcase the plethora of reeds on this organ!” Yes, this work by the composer Ronald Arnatt (1930-2018), past president of the AGO, composer, organist, educator, conductor, and editor, was the start of a recital that proved Dr. Freese was excited to explore everything this organ has to offer. It was a lively opening piece; I saw a few joining me in moving to the rhythms.

Given the resources of the AHCC organ, it was almost “required” that the program would include a work by a 20th century French composer. Dr. Freese didn’t disappoint, playing the “Choral varié” from Maurice Duruflé’s Prelude, Adagio et Choral varié sur le theme du Veni Creator, Opus 4. The chant was beautifully sung before each of four variations by tenor Mark Child. The theme is heralded in many forms and in every voice, from the pedal, to the manuals, to a canon and finally in a brilliant toccata with the tune in the right hand and pedal. The overall effect of the solo voice alternating with the organ was beautiful.

Mendelssohn’s Sonata V, opus 65, is a three-movement work with a chorale-style opening movement, a contrasting second movement with motion and a beautiful leggiero bass line, and a final movement that shows off the organ’s capacities, splendor, and brilliance. Dr. Freese again stayed true to her desire to show off this organ. The registrations for each movement aptly showed the contrasting character of each and gave us a superb look into what Mendelssohn might have had in mind as he wrote the sonatas to illustrate his way of “treating the organ.”

Dr. Freese was happy to discuss her Connecticut premiere of the next piece, called The Freese Collection. She regaled us with a short, entertaining story of how she acquired, at auction, one of the three works of art, by the Southern American artist Nall, which Pamela Decker then used to inspire the first of the three movements of this work commissioned by Dr. Freese. Each movement of the piece “represents and depicts” one of the three works of art: Augenmusik (Eye Music), Lirio e amapola (Iris and Poppy), and Le Croix de foi (The Cross of Faith, or “Faythe” as Dr. Decker explained in the notes), all of which are displayed in Dr. Freese’s home. We heard German, French, and Hispanic influences, figurative outlines, flowing lines, colors, symbolism, musical symbols, and a samba rhythm.

The music is complex, impressionistic, intense and demands your attention to “hear” the three-dimensional quality of the art. It seems to be, as noted by “Pipedreams” host Michael Barone: “suspended in mid-air.” Dr. Freese played with the apparent goal of portraying the art and the story of the process of the birth of this wonderful piece. She said she had other stories on how she acquired the other two works of art. I forgot to ask her about them during the reception and I’ll bet she would reply with her typical animation and laughter. If anyone asked, I’d love to hear the stories.

For her final three pieces, Dr. Freese discussed the upcoming 125th anniversary of the birth of the American composer, organist and educator Leo Sowerby. He has over 500 compositions to his credit in almost every genre. And he left behind a legacy of many organ students that are part of the organ world to this day. Dr. Freese’s organ teacher was a student of Sowerby.

When thinking about Aeolian-Skinner, I suspect every organist thinks: “I’ve got to hear those strings.” Freese noted that those strings are perfect for Sowerby. Requiescat in Pace, written in honor of the deceased soldiers of World War I, is an expression of Sowerby’s pain over the loss of the young lives. The performance instructions attest to his thinking. The opening theme: “Measured and Mournful” is followed by the B Section: “Faster and brighter than before,” expressing hope and eternal life and then to Part C: “Slower; Exulting” and moves to “Quietly,” and finally to “calm and peaceful….the peace of a soul at rest.” The beautiful combination of organ and artist took everyone through the gamut of emotions to the final suspended chord, using those gorgeous strings and a bit reminiscent of the Duruflé piece heard earlier.

The second movement from Symphony in G Major, “Fast and Sinister,” was a fantasia, a fanfare, and certainly fast at a tempo marking of 208 to the quarter. Some say it is fast for the listener and sinister for the player. There are some jazzy moments, and has a sense of menace.

The final piece by Sowerby, Pageant, was nothing short of an amazing presentation of a technically difficult pedal extravaganza. Sowerby wrote the piece as a challenge to the Italian organist of the Vatican, Fernando Germani, after being impressed with his pedal playing. Germani accepted the challenge, tackled the work and then replied: “Now write me something really difficult!” Dr. Freese clearly enjoys this piece and was in her element, showing that all of her educational snippets on how to learn music well really do work. It was exhilarating to watch her play on the big monitors in the nave. My wife commented to her during the reception that she must have strong ankles. Dr. Freese laughed and said that she thinks it’s because she was a figure skater in an earlier life and she has kept them strong, “sort of.”

I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the Master Class the previous day. Right from the start, Dr. Freese was engaging, kind, encouraging, and made it easy for all five performers, myself included, to step up to the bench and play. Her comments were insightful and helpful, she told many anecdotes and stories, discussed the music and their various publishers, and encouraged us to explore every note and phrase and always make the music our own. It was a highlight for me, this being my first participation in a Master Class.

Thanks to AGO Hartford, AHCC, Susan Carroll, Vaughn Mauren and, of course, Faythe Freese for a memorable weekend of music.

Masterclass Photos

Zachary Schurman, one of the five performers, with Faythe Freese  and Vaughn Mauren. Zachery is a first-year student at Trinity College where he is Assistant Chapel Organist and studies with Christopher Houlihan.

Masterclass performers and auditors gathered in the organ loft of Asylum Hill Congregational Church surrounded by the pipes of the 1961 Aeolian-Skinner organ. Changes to the organ in 2005 include a new four-manual Skinner-style console by Austin Organs, new pipe additions and tonal revisions by Messrs. Czelusniak et Dugal, and digital stops by Walker Technical Company.