Jim Hejduk reports on "The 7th Annual East Texas Pipe Organ Festival: Honoring the Life and Work of Roy Perry," Nov. 5–9, 2017, Kilgore and Longview, TX and Shreveport, LA.
Some might ask "Don't you get tired of hearing those same old organs year after year?" and the answer is a resounding "No," especially given the cavalcade of artists invited to perform over these several days. Sadly, however, this year's opening concert was a crushing disappointment. A Truckenbrod artist who shall remain nameless played a heavy-handed program rife with dazzling technique but totally lacking in any musicality whatsoever. Unable to recognize a musical phrase, let alone shape one, he managed to make an organ (First Presbyterian in Kilgore) at which one could sit down blindfolded and pull out any combination of stops and get a gorgeous sound become an instrument of torture. One colleague whom I respect enormously (and has a national reputation) labeled the playing "vulgar" while another retired great labeled it "egocentric." Let me make a political analogy here. I came expecting to advocate for a Catalonian freedom fighter. What I got was Donald Trump. He thought he was Zorro; I'd call him "El Porco." Further, he appalled his host by setting a sweating water bottle atop the console while practicing (this, in the Kingdom of Kilgore, is akin to placing a 5-gallon jug of Mountain Dew on the arm of the chair in which Abraham Lincoln reposes at his Memorial) while strewing wadded up Whataburger wrappers on the floor by the pedal board. Things could only get better from this point on and that they did. Fast!
One of the highlights of this year's Festival was the amount of music which was new to my ears. These were either commissions, original compositions, or neglected nuggets of which I had no prior knowledge. These works will be labeled with a * from here on out (Note: this is an asterisk, not a star, though derived from that Greek word). Monday morning found us just down Main Street at St. Luke's Methodist Church and its small jewel of a 2-manual Aeolian-Skinner. Henry Webb, who'd played for us last year as a high schooler at First Presbyterian and totally wowed us, returned as a new freshman at Eastman who's studying with Nathan Laube. He began with the Fanfare of John Cook (which I'd heard Laube open with this past summer at the AGO Regional in Youngstown) and continued with a stylish Vivaldi-Bach D minor Concerto. He then launched into *Homage to Handel by Karg-Elert —54 Studies in Variation Form on a Ground Bass of Handel. "Lord, help me," I thought when I saw the number 54, but what Webb squeezed out of that organ sonically and how he magically paced this work made it seem to fly by. He wrought the same kind of tonal miracles Chris Marks had the previous year with his all-Bingham program. The second half was the Guilmant Sonata No. 1 in D Minor which was brilliantly dispatched. As Lorenz Maycher said in his introduction, "Remember, you heard him first in Kilgore!"
After a catered lunch at St. Luke's, it was back to First Presbyterian to hear multi-prize winner Thomas Gaynor from New Zealand play the large chorale settings (plus the 4 Duetti and all framed by the St. Anne Prelude and Fugue) from the Clavierübung III by Bach. The playing was masterful, but perhaps over-registered in several instances. I mean, you don't need turgidity in the 6-voice Aus tiefer Not with its double pedal part. And you certainly need clarity in Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam and the suicidally tricky Jesus Christus, unser Heiland. That way you can make the Credo—Wir glauben... fugue and the St. Anne stand out more tellingly. But he sure nailed the notes. Gaynor, by the way, is another Eastman student.
That evening Frederick Hohman played a quite varied program on the same organ and also seemed to fall prey to the temptation of over-registering. He began with Edwin Lemare's *Concert Polonaise and continued with his own *transcription and "embellishment" of Bach's familiar Air on the G String. The first pass through had some tasteful ornamentation while the repeat suddenly took a curious turn towards something rather more jazz- and blues-influenced. Following was a more standard rendition of Bach's Prelude and Fugue in F minor. Then we heard the Franck Pastorale with the first half closing with the Final from the Widor Symphony #2. Though a straight-ahead toccata-like piece, Hohman added a curious amount of rhythmic elasticity that, while note-perfect, gave one a sense of unease and hesitancy. The second half began with Hohman's own *Methuen Fanfare. I'd seen and heard a performance of this piece on the organ in the empty Methuen Memorial Music Hall on You Tube and found this live version much more convincing. Next came two pieces by Jean Langlais: the Cantilene from Suite Breve and Mors et Resurrectio from Three Gregorian Paraphrases. Again, over-registration clouded much of the filigree of the former and over-dramatized the latter. Hohman's *transcription of Funeral March of a Marionette by Gounod was again burdened by fussy over-registration which robbed the piece of its charm and humor and the audience's association with it as the theme song for the old "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" series from the early days of Sunday night television. As a closer, we had Mulet's warhorse Tu es Petra. But again, unnecessary liberties with the rhythmic propulsion lessened this piece's punch. Hohman, too, is an Eastman alumnus. It seemed like Kilgore had turned into Rochester if it was peppered with oil derricks!
Tuesday always finds us heading 60-some miles east to Shreveport, LA and the largest instrument on our docket at St. Mark's (Episcopal) Cathedral. Having driven myself, I arrived early to find San Francisco-based organist Jonathan Dimmock (Oberlin and Yale - not Eastman!) watching festival technicians, the Emery brothers (brought annually all the way from Pennsylvania to oversee the tuning and TLC of all the instruments we hear) fussing over the wiring of the stop knob of the larger Great Principal which was refusing to function. This problem wasn't to be solved, but Dimmock made quick alterations to his registrations and played an elegantly masterful and varied program which featured two works commissioned by and dedicated to him along with some chestnuts and some other pieces totally new to me. Labeled "Reformation: 500," Dimmock began with Distler's partita on Wachet auf... followed by a setting of *Von Gott will ich nicht lassen dating from 1990 and composed by Bert Matter. Next came David Hegarty's *Appalachian Triptych (the first of Dimmock's commissions dating from 2017) which included "Pisgah," "Shenandoah," and "Saints Bound for Heaven." This is an attractive work and certainly audience-friendly. Cary Ratcliff's 1984 setting of *Psalm 98 came next and definitely had listeners in its corner until the very last chord—a collection of notes so bizarre and out of character with the rest of the piece, we weren't exactly sure if it was over! As a palate-cleanser, Dimmock played the familiar setting of O Welt, ich muss dich lassen from Op. 122 of Brahms which showed off the organ's rich foundation stops lustrously (even minus that big Principal 8'). Staying on familiar ground as it were, we next heard Mendelssohn's Sonata VI, Variations on Vater unser... laid out in a beautifully paced, gorgeously registered and blissfully unfussy interpretation. The closing work (and the 2nd Dimmock commission) was a fantasy-like elaboration of *Ein feste Burg by John Karl Hirten which was a perfect summation for the programmatic theme. Afterwards, Dimmock offered thanks to the technicians, the cathedral staff, and saluted his mentors especially pointing out Paul Halley who was in the audience and would play later that day. Dimmock had worked under Halley years ago at St. John the Divine in New York.
We then headed downtown for a delectable catered lunch of pork loin and salmon in the sumptuous dark-paneled dining room of the Scottish Rite Cathedral. Afterwards, we proceeded upstairs to the opulent auditorium to hear a short demonstration of the large Pilcher organ there. It was back on the busses to return to the tonier south side of town to First Baptist Church. If the Scottish Rite Cathedral denoted deep-pocketed clubbiness, First Baptist screamed money. It is a huge Southern colonial edifice with a gigantic sanctuary with a jaw-dropping chandelier hanging from its midpoint that might otherwise suggest a European opera house. The sanctuary is so large that the Shreveport Symphony is currently playing its concerts there while its downtown concert hall is being renovated. What might normally be plain glass arched windows, First Baptist's feature beautiful stained glass. It was here that we heard Jason Alden play the large Williams organ. "Williams," you ask? Yes, this instrument was built by the Williams family—the multi-generational gaggle of organ technicians from New Orleans who had worked with Roy Perry on all of his Aeolian-Skinner installations in a multi-state area. Jimmy and Nora Williams had a falling out with Aeolian-Skinner and its post-G. Donald Harrison management and set out on their own in contracting for the building of the First Baptist organ, doing their best to replicate the unique A-S sound and craftsmanship. Nora called it their "give away" organ because Jimmy kept wanting to add stops to it while keeping the original contracted price the same! They were amazingly successful in doing so.
I was surprised to hear some out-of-tune reeds on this instrument (often when arriving for a recital, the Emery brothers would be doing last-minute touch-up tunings). I later learned that they had had to race back to Kilgore earlier because the Presbyterian church organ's power had failed and Wednesday's artists were losing hours of valuable practice time. As Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say "It's always somethin'!" Alden, who owns his own organ service company in Plano, TX, played a very ambitious program. He began with Mendelssohn's War March of the Priests from Athalie, then launched into the Bach Dorian Toccata (no fugue). Next came the 11th of *12 Tangos Ecclesiasticos (Tango de undecimo tono a modo de Bossanova) by Guy Bovet followed by the Bolero de Concert by Lefebure-Wely. Suddenly, there followed the Hindemith Sonate II (just as my tango shoes were getting comfortable) and then we were yanked back south of the border to *Cinco Danucas Populares by Miguel Perez. This was turning into a real smorgasbord in which all the dishes seemed out of order (dessert, soup, veggies, meat, salad). The first half ended with Alden being joined at the console by Jeremy David Tarrant (from St. Paul's Cathedral in Detroit) in the *Double Fantaisie from Mosaique 1 by Jean Langlais. Tout le monde, baby! After intermission, we heard the entire Symphonie IV by Vierne. At this point, I was happy to stay with one composer and one style for a while and Alden nailed this piece. This particular Vierne doesn't seem to get played often and I am very fond of it. I think it and Vierne's 5th are the most thematically unified of these works and the Final is particularly hair-raising in its visceral excitement.
It was back to St. Mark's to hear change ringing from the handsome Gothic bell tower followed by a Rite I Evensong service that was elegantly performed. The psalms were competently sung by the obviously devoted multi-generational mixed choir, the Canticles by George Dyson were "veddy British," and the anthem, Te lucis ante terminum by H. Balfour-Gardiner is one I've loved hearing, singing, conducting, and playing for decades. One never grows tired of it. And you could tell that the choir really wanted to do their very best for their out-of-town guests as well as the many parishioners who joined us. Now here's a "small world" tidbit. Bryan Mitnaul, the organist-choirmaster at St. Mark's, was Tom Trenney's choir director at St. James Episcopal Church in Painesville, OH when Tom was knee high to a whatever!
Immediately after the service, we heard the afore-mentioned Paul Halley play a simply stunning program. I would guess that many of the attendees had no idea who Paul Halley is. I first knew of his work at St. John the Divine in New York (following Alec Wyton there) when a Choir College buddy who taught at the Cathedral School and sang in the choir there told me he never heard anyone who was so at one with the organ as Paul. I also had Halley's old LP of improvisations called "Nightwatch" which was powerful and mesmerizing. Years later, I conducted several of his choral works which my students unfailingly immediately fell in love with. Now headquartered in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Halley began with the Bach BWV 545 C Major Prelude and Fugue in a performance that was powerfully solid. He then played the Howells Psalm Prelude, Set I, No. 1 in a way that was masterfully British with its smooth registration transitions. Then came the familiar Sonata No. 1 in F minor by Mendelssohn that was, in turns, searing, tender, expectant, and bracingly virtuostic thus eliciting the warmest response from the audience. Then, wonder of wonders, a piece new to probably everyone there by Halley himself -*Outer Hebrides - A Fantasie on 3 traditional Hebridean melodies which totally rocked! Everyone found themselves compellingly drawn to, yea, excited by it. The first half closed with Dupre's beloved Cortege et Litanie. Following a brief intermission, we stayed in familiar territory with the Franck Choral in B minor, Bach's Prelude (which fairly danced) and Fugue in C Major (BWV 547, the 9/8), more Franck with the Prelude, Fugue et Variation and closing with Halley's *Toccata Andromeda which cemented people's impression of Halley as not only a brilliant player, but as a noteworthy composer as well. Fittingly, Jonathan Dimmock turned pages for his mentor.
Back at First Presbyterian in Kilgore on Wednesday morning, we heard duo-organists David Baskeyfield (his 4th appearance at the ETPOF) and Thomas Gaynor perform a delightful program which began with two transcriptions by Clarence Dickinson and Charlotte Matthewson Lockwood (whom I later knew as Charlotte Garden): the *Turkish March from The Ruins of Athens by Beethoven and the ever popular Danse Macabre of Saint-Saens. Though robbed of several hours of practice time the previous day, these two acquitted themselves admirably. Baskeyfield continued on his own with the Dupre Prelude and Fugue in F minor (Op. 7, No. 2) whose fugue has that meltingly beautiful entry of the subject in the tenor voice on strings at its midpoint, and Andre Isoir's prickly, acidic *Variations sur un psaume huguenot. Between these two, Baskeyfield announced he would add Franck's Priere. Baskeyfield's performance was deeply committed and beautifully registered. But I must admit I just don't "get" this piece and haven't for the last 50 years. It just seems to meander aimlessly for far too long, though I love and treasure Franck's other organ pieces. My bad, I guess. Following intermission, we heard the world premiere of the newly commissioned *Prelude and Dance by Charles Callahan which was in honor and memory of the remarkable Nora Williams (see above). This talented duo concluded with their own transcription of Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saens which brought down the house. At our catered lunch afterwards at the church, I had the pleasure of sitting next to Baskeyfield and across from Gaynor and found them delightful, engaging, musically provocative and witty. The limited size of the festival provides this unique accessibility.
Then it was back up the street after lunch to St. Luke's Methodist and Dallas organist Michael Shake in an "all over the map" program of Purvis, Howells, *James Kuykendall, interesting Baroque gems by *William Faulkes, *Matthias Weckmann, Johann Walther, and Buxtehude. Bach's G Major Prelude and Fugue rounded out that group and Shake closed with the Sicilienne from the Durufle Suite and the Jongen Toccata. Again, one is always amazed at the versatility of this relatively small instrument. It really seems to challenge and inspire players to bring out its best. Wednesday evenings always find us back at First Presbyterian for a silent movie. This year was "Girl Shy" starring Harold Lloyd accompanied by the resourceful and imaginative Clark Wilson. He has a particular gift for weaving thematic motifs throughout the film which compensates artfully for the lack of the spoken word and sound effects.
Thursday we were headed 10 miles northeast to Longview and First Baptist. Mark Dwyer from Church of the Advent in Boston played a Baroque first half and a late Romantic second half to show off this magnificent instrument's versatility. He began with the Buxtehude Praeludium in D Minor followed by Handel's F Major Organ Concerto, Op. 4, No. 5, then returned to Buxehude with his setting of the Vater unser... and closed with the Bach D Major Prelude and Fugue. The playing was knowledgeable, deftly registered and abounded with interesting ornamentation. However, there seemed to be half-beat rhythmic pauses here and there whose purpose totally eluded me. Maybe this is some up-dated performance practice thing of which I'm unaware. Who knows? But it sure threw me off kilter. The second half began with Thalben-Ball's *Tune in E (after John Stanley), the Franck B minor Choral (with which Paul Halley had seemed more at one with on Tuesday in Shreveport), a *Folk Tune by Percy Whitlock and Charles Villiers Stanford's *Fantasia on Engelberg to close.
After lunch at Luby's (a Texas cafeteria chain specializing in regional cuisine), we returned to First Baptist to hear our own Jan Kraybill. I had suggested for some time that Lorenz engage Jan and Michael McCabe from Omaha provided a generous gift to make Jan's appearance possible. Like Paul Halley, few among the attendees knew of her and she programmed a take-no-prisoners recital that left everyone fairly awe-struck and stunned. She began with the Variations de Concert of Bonnet and continued with Sweelinck's Variations on Mein junges Leben hat ein End. Following that was Bach's monumental Fantasy and Fugue in G minor and to close the first half, Samuel P. Warren's *transcription of the Scherzo from Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Needless to say, that first half generated a lot of intermission buzz. The second half included mainly new or unfamiliar works (at least to me) beginning with Henry Ley's transcription of the *Chaconne from the First Suite for Military Band by Gustav Holst. Then Stanford's *Intermezzo on an Irish Air (OK, "Danny Boy") followed by Jan's own transcription of Dave Brubeck's *Two-Part Contention. And what better American closer than the Sowerby Pageant can there be? The audience was eating out of Jan's hand by this point, to be sure. It is interesting to note that this is the second Aeolian-Skinner Jan has played on which Catharine Crozier recorded her historic "King of Instruments" LPs (the Auditorium in Independence, MO and this one on which Crozier had played the monumental Sowerby Symphony in G Major). Jan made an enormously powerful statement on behalf of women organists - especially in that she was the only female artist to appear this year.
Thursday night's closing concert back at First Presbyterian in Kilgore is always a very big deal, mainly because it honors Lorenz Maycher's predecessor James (Jimmy) Lynn Culp who did so much to preserve and maintain this Roy Perry icon. Alan Morrison of the Curtis Institute and Westminster Choir College was the artist and this recital's noteworthiness was underlined by the fact that Ken Cowan drove his entire organ class up from Rice University in Houston for it. They sat directly behind me which gave me a chance to remind one Mr. Brian Anderson that I had baby-sat him during one of his practice sessions during the first ever POE-Advanced gathering organized by Chris Marks and hosted by our Lincoln chapter. He was kind of freaked-out that I remembered he was working on the Hamburg piece by Guy Bovet which quotes the Barcarolle from Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann, This, I assure you, is the only time anything by Bovet has ever been played at the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Lincoln, NE. It's also interesting to note that Brian went on to study with Alan at Curtis and that his first piano teacher as a kid in Georgia had been Alan's mother!
Morrison's program matched the auspiciousness of the occasion. A French theme prevailed as he began with the *Marche Heroique by Saint-Saens, continued with a *transcription by C. C. Loomis of Nuages by Debussy, then sandwiched a gripping account of the Franck Fantasy in A Major between the 1st (B Major) and 3rd (G minor) Preludes and Fugues from Dupre's Op. 7 (David Baskeyfield had planned on playing all three on his program, but Lorenz alerted him to Alan's plans, so he opted to play only the 2nd). In a word, "Phew!" The second half began with Anne Wilson's wickedly challenging *Toccata which Morrison told the audience had been originally written for "the amazing Tom Trenney." Then it was Dreams by Hugh McAmis (a frequent inclusion on Virgil Fox recitals), the scintillating Allegretto from the Horatio Parker Sonata for Organ in E-Flat (which Monica Czausz played for LOS at Westminster Presbyterian in February of this year) and closing with his (and Ken Cowan's) teacher John Weaver's jazzy *Variations on "Sine Nomine."
As you can see, this was a very full several days. The 123-page spiral bound program book has all the programs, artists' bios, organ specs, loads of photographs, and lots of reprints of arcana surrounding the building and installation of these magnificent instruments, to say nothing of interesting and witty articles by and about Roy Perry himself along with delightful recollections dictated by Nora Williams. Add to this bus transportation, the several meals and "Heavy Hors d' Oeuvres" receptions to say nothing of an OPEN BAR each night after the festivities, and this is a steal of a deal. Moreover, it's terrific being able to socialize and interact with so many big names, repeat attendees, gracious Kilgore hosts, and newcomers. I recommend it highly.