October 10, 2008

The Critical Ear


Major assembly required

On Feb. 24, nearly 100 congregants of First Presbyterian Church came together to help unload a huge present they had given themselves, the city's musical community, and the future. It was packed in an equally huge gray metal box on wheels: a semi parked on Grant Avenue between the church and the unfinished Santa Fe Community Convention Center.

Like a bicycle on a long-ago birthday, it came in pieces, though it had been previously assembled -- after more than 12,000 hours of work -- at its first home in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Now it would require thousands of hours of fitting, tinkering, and fine-tuning to reach its full beauty and usefulness. It was the church's new pipe organ, built by the revered firm of C.B. Fisk.

As the day went on, hundreds of pieces of the organ, from pipes and relays to miles of wiring, were unpacked throughout the sanctuary. Then the installation team got to work, and the clock began to

tick again.

Almost eight months from that day, the wait is over. Santa Fe's first new pipe organ in more than half a century is dedicated at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 12, with a recital played by the church's consultant, Larry Palmer, professor of organ and harpsichord at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and a noted scholar and performer.

The repertoire has been chosen to show off the instrument's colors. It includes works by Maurice Durufle, Pablo Bruna, Hugo Distler, Richard Strauss, Bach, Josef Rheinberger, Herbert Howells, Gerald Near, and Eugene Thayer. Given that church organs are primarily designed to lead the congregation in song, a hymn is being sung as well: the sturdy "O God, Our Help in Ages Past."

Almost better for local musicians is a special pre-concert treat. From 2 to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 11, Fisk personnel talk about the instrument at the top of each hour, followed by open console time for local organists.

Just what happened between February and October? Unloading the 11 tons of wood and metal parts, including 2,065 pipes ranging in length from 16 feet to three-eighths of an inch, took only a day. Getting the basic installation in place required a month. Then came thousands of hours of voicing -- the painstakingly precise process of giving reed, string, flute, and diapason pipes their proper sheen and power, what some organ builders call "the confidence of the pipe." Along the way, the voicers dealt with the humidity (that is, the lack of it) and temperature variances that affect instruments installed at high elevations.

I can hear some of you asking the obvious question: Why should the musical community care about a church organ? The answer is simple though multifaceted.

First off, the pipe organ is one of the oldest instruments we know of; it's part of history. Second, it has a major place in musical culture. Masses of secular as well as sacred works exist for it, both solo and orchestral, from the Renaissance to today. Third, Santa Fe's dearth of pipe organs, let alone good ones, has left us with few places to perform some of the greatest pieces in the Western tradition.

First Presbyterian is not going to be selfish with the instrument. For example, music director Linda Raney is starting a series of half-hour organ recitals on Friday afternoons. The first is at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 10. Such recitals will exhibit the organ and provide another artistic anchor for downtown, and they help keep the instrument healthy. Like any fine mechanism, a pipe organ is all the better for being properly and regularly used.

Also, at 3 p.m. on Oct. 19, a group of organists and string players from Albuquerque and Santa Fe give a free concert of music by Mozart, Haydn, Dvor k, Ibert, Bernard Wayne Sanders, and Frederick Frahm. The event is part of the American Guild of Organists' nationwide "Organ Spectacular" and is sponsored by the Albuquerque chapter of the AGO.

The organists are Raney, Frahm, Iain Quinn, Jane Smith, Marla Riggins-Clark, Rick Wild, Fritz Frurip, Maribeth Gunning, Eddie Saltz, and Edwina Beard. The string players are violinists David Felberg and Nicolle Maniaci and cellist Eric Walters. I might wind up turning pages for someone, if I'm lucky.

There is no charge for any of these events, but free-will offerings are accepted. Considering that the Fisk -- one of the final parts of the church's multiyear, $6 million renovation -- cost more than $800,000, that hardly seems unreasonable.

First Presbyterian is at 208 Grant Ave. For more information, call 982-8544 or visit fpcsantafe.org.

Decisions, decisions

As so often happens in Santa Fe, several events are scheduled atop one another on Sunday, Oct. 12. Besides the organ-dedication concert noted previously, two other no-charge concerts take place around the same hour, and both sound first-rate within the performers' niches.

At 2:30 p.m., the Santa Fe Community Orchestra opens its

2008-2009 season in St. Francis Auditorium in the New Mexico Museum of Art, 107 W. Palace Ave. Under the baton of music director Oliver Prezant, the orchestra plays the Prelude to Act III of Wagner's opera Lohengrin; Haydn's Symphony No. 104, the last of the 12 "London" symphonies; and Dvor k Symphony No. 8 in G Major.

Prezant also gives an "Anatomy of a Symphony" free concert

preview at 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 10, in St. Francis during an open orchestra rehearsal. For information, call 466-4879 or visit sfco.org.

The Great Hall at St. John's College is the setting for a 3 p.m. recital by the Sweden-born, Albuquerque-raised young pianist Elias- Axel Pettersson. He holds a bachelor's degree in music from the University of Rochester (New York), a master's degree from the University of Maryland, College Park, and is a doctoral student at the Universite

de Montreal. Pettersson's program sounds artistically stunning:

Jan cek's Sonata 1.X.1905, "From the Street"; Haydn's C Major Fantasia,

Hob. XVII:4; three of Rachmaninoff's tudes-Tableaux; Liszt's second Ballade, in B Minor; two Schubert Impromptus; and Mily Balakirev's fiendishly difficult and beautiful "Oriental Fantasy," Islamey. For information, call 984-6000.

Noisy magnificence

Santa Fe New Music founder John Kennedy kicks off his 2008-2009 season with a six-part lecture series titled "Beyond the Noise." The lectures have been inspired by an excellent book by The New Yorker critic Alex Ross, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century. They run from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays -- Oct. 16 and 30; Nov. 6, 13, and 20; and Dec. 4 -- at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum's Education Annex, 123 Grant Ave. The course fee is $10 per class or $50 for the full series, with a discount price of $8 or $45 for museum members and New Music subscribers.

Preregistration is required; call 946-1039. For more information on Santa Fe New Music's upcoming concerts, visit sfnm.org or call 474-6601.

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