Monday, November 8, 2010

L'organo Alla Cattedrale

Humor me while I entitle local concert posts in foreign languages.  The desire to go to Italy again burns.  The furthest from home I have been in six months is Phoenix, and whilst I completely agree it was an amazing weekend, a long multi-country journey is emblazoned on my wish list.

Sunday evening found me at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in downtown Salt Lake City, for the fifth and final concert of the 2010 Eccles Organ Festival.  The first four concerts escaped me, somehow.  Mass had just ended, and I had an hour to kill before the concert began.  I stood on the Cathedral steps and talked on the phone with my mother.  She was completely jazzed about the concert she and my dad saw the previous night, so I was arranging, of all things, a blog post she's going to do "soon."  And after a bit, I spotted my friend, who like me was fashionably early.

We sat in the back at first, then moved to mid-Cathedral seats and chatted with others nearby.  Where are the good seats for an organ concert? It's not like one can dance at the foot of the stage.

Because of the location of the organ upstairs in the Cathedral, we heard but didn't see Dr. Archer play.  Still, most likely she could beat you or your kids at Wii Dance Dance Revolution.  Organ is an all-encompassing, multi-limb undertaking.  Not just hold your instrument and shake your booty, organ playing means arms, legs, body and soul.  At one point during the concert, I turned to my friend and asked "do you think she's sweating up there?"  "At least," she answered.

Dr. Archer is Director of the Music Program at Barnard College and conductor of the Barnard-Columbia Chorus. Dr. Archer joined the faculty of Barnard in 1988.  Oh yes, I sauntered past Barnard College during my last NYC visit.  It's right near Columbia, where my son attends graduate school.

The first half of the program was a potpourri of Bach-themed or -composed tunes.  The interwoven sixteenth notes of "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" by Johann Sebastian Bach gave way to "An Wasserflussen Babylon," also by Bach, and "Fuge Uber den Namen Bach, Op. 60, No. 5" by Robert Schumann.

What can be said about music which has stood the test of time, maybe not since cave man times, but hundreds of years at least?  Plenty.  We received a six page handout listing the music and analyzing each piece.  Single spaced, in case you were wondering.  It was overwhelming, and no, I didn't read it all.

About "Toccata:" anything in D minor strikes me as haunted house music.  D minor makes good warning or transitional music so it's the key of choice for Advent and Lent.  The Cathedral lights were dimmed, which enhanced the ghoulish ambiance.  The resonant organ tones sunk deep to our toes.  The painted scenes at the front of the Cathedral looked shadowy and illuminated. The Bach-esque court-like quality of the "Fuge" felt as if I stepped into a scene of "Pride and Prejudice" with court ladies dancing.

"Prelude for Organ in G" was in essence attack of the triplets.  Maybe it wasn't really, but it sounded as if.  For non-musicians who want to know, a triplet is three notes evenly spaced on one beat.  Dividing beats is just about like dividing sandwiches, easier to cut in half than thirds.  But it is possible and sounds cool, which is why musicians like such. 

Looking around the Cathedral, the crowd was sparse.  This has rung true about many music events in the last few months, and amazing talent (and in this case, free) goes begging.  When the music vibrates through you, as with the organ, it is a surreal experience not to be missed.

The last two numbers in the first half, "Fuge uber den Namen Bach, Op. 60, No. 6" by Robert Schumann and "Prelude, Fugue and Variation, Op. 18" by Cesar Franck, evoked the haunted house feel even moreso than the Haunted Symphony.  The House of Seven Gables and the fog floating through the narrow streets of Salem, Massachusetts came to mind.

The second half was "Hyperion, or the Rhetoric of Fire, Op. 45" by Jean Guillou.  During the piece, there was a long silence.  Everyone was motionless ... the program was far from over.  Had the organist fainted? I wondered.  I have been up in the gallery and it's questionable whether there's sufficient air up there. Alas, the deep tones of the organ began yet again.

Each section of the music had its own flavor.  "Fire of the Soul" was fiercely warning and dramatic, with conflicting notes and discord.  We concluded it was an exploration of all of the organ's many keys, notes, chords, speeds, and volumes.  A movie soundtrack wannabe where the lead is stuck in a deserted underground parking lot with giant rats lurking in crevices and staring with beaty eyes.  Or perhaps a Drama Queen, a never-ending litany of troubles, trials, and life noise.  It all came to a thunderous, vibrant end as a parade of ghouls floating by and landing on a fearsome tone.

When I got home, there was a message waiting.  Would I like to go hear gregorian chants?  Yessiree.  {more to come}

Disclosure: Admission price for this event was FREE. I received NO compensation for this review.

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