2018 National AGO Convention

Sinda Dux reports on the 2018 AGO National Convention in Kansas City, July 2–6.

Fourteen organs, 23 organists, 15 events other than organ recitals, 2 hotels, 18 bus rides, 384 driving miles from my home to the Kansas City hotel and back home again, 5 days—that was my personal experience at my first AGO National Convention. I enjoyed myself every day—morning, noon, and evening—although I paced myself and did not try to go to everything. I would never have made it through. I met many friends and had lots of conversations with lovely AGO members from all over this country and from Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.

The theme of worship services and a number of workshops was World War I since 2018 is the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice and because the World War I Memorial is a significant monument in Kansas City.

I was very pleased to see that many of the celebrated guest organists have been in Lincoln for our own Lincoln Organ Showcase series. That says something about the quality of our LOS organ concerts. A special treat was to see our North Central Region AGO/Quimby Rising Star Ben Kerswell perform brilliantly and then be interviewed by Michael Barone of Pipedreams Live!™

Buses took us to the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence, KS for a wonderful James Higdon recital on a 1996 Hellmuth Wolff organ. Tournemire's Choral Improvisation sur le "Victimae paschali" was played so stunningly, I swear I forgot to breathe. Higdon also played de Grigny and one of my favorites, Jehan Alain.

Christopher Houlihan thrilled his "Houli-fans" playing a 1971 4M/P Schantz Organ for Herbert Howells and César Frank. Houlihan also played Four Sketches for Pedal-Piano by Robert Schumann, now normally played on the organ.

A Vesper Service with organ and choral music by Bach especially pleased convention attendees. A 2004 Lively-Fulcher pipe organ and a beautiful chamber ensemble and baroque orchestra performed five Bach motets perfectly in German; the prelude and postlude were from Bach's Clavier Übung III, played perfectly by Jan Kraybill.

Ben Sheen, Associate Organist at St. Thomas Church on Fifth Ave., New York City, used C.H.H. Parry, Elgar, Percy Whitlock, Debussy, and Mendelssohn to show off a 1960 Aeolian-Skinner, rebuilt in 1993 by Quimby Pipe Organs. Sheen's father Graham Sheen had transcribed Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture for organ and it was our pleasure to hear it at this convention.

I call him the Virgil Fox of the 21st Century—Argentinian Hector Olivera—a true showman on the organ, having no trouble playing whisper-soft or cause-the-roof-to-collapse fffff! The 2003 rebuild of a 1967 Fratelli Ruffatti organ added an electronic module that enables the expansion of the organ sounds from 50 pipe ranks to more than 400 ranks including recorded stops from the organs of Notre Dame and Ste. Sulpice; Olivera used every one of those ranks to present Bach, Vierne, Widor and others. That concert was a "wowser"!

Our Omaha friend, Marie Rubis Bauer, did a wonderful concert of Sweelink, Bach, Rossi, Frescobaldi and Böhm. She plays a Pasi organ at St. Cecelia Cathedral in Omaha and at the convention, she played her concert on a 2016 Pasi and used the Cymbelstern as an audience pleaser.

Lincoln Chapter member Tom Trenney was very busy during the week presenting two workshops, "Then Sings My Soul: Organists Who Train Singers" and "May God Give Us Faith to Sing Always." Tom's choral arrangements of We Shall Overcome and For the Music of Creation were part of the Hymn Festival titled The Peaceable Kingdom where Tom was also one of the organists. Every convention attendee received a free copy of We Shall Overcome thanks to Augsburg Fortress Publishing Co.

Lincoln AGO Chapter lifetime member Quentin Faulkner gave a workshop, "Bach Seminar, Part III: Performance Practice Issues."

I attended two workshops concerning World War One, "The Art World Responds: WWI in Note, Pigment, and Stone" and "Wings and Legends: WWI and the Silver Screen." I also attended our North Central Region business meeting where I met our newly-elected Regional Councillor, Karen Black, Professor of Music at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, karen.black@wartburg.edu. It just so happens that my first cousin attends this college and plays French horn in the orchestra. There are 30 chapters in the North Central Region and the regional Coordinator for Professional Concerns is Dr J. Gordon Christiansen of the Omaha AGO Chapter. Claire Eason, dual Lincoln/Omaha chapter member, is the District Convener for Nebraska. Claire Bushong, Omaha, is on the Regional Nominating Committee for 2018–2020. And Jim Lytton, Omaha, was a member of the Convention Planning Committee.

Some changes are coming: The ONCARD system for paying dues is being discarded and a new system installed...whoopee! A new AGO Strategic Plan has been formed and will be implemented...more on this to come.

A really fun event of the convention was the Kansas City BBQ on July 4; KC is famous for its BBQ and the food did not disappoint. I ate a new food, burnt ends, which are a KC specialty—the ends of a brisket—and they are delicious and as tender as butter! What else could accompany barbecued meat but a bun, BBQ sauce, baked beans, and cole slaw? The Australian AGO'ers won free beer/wine tickets for coming the farthest for this convention.

Todd Wilson gave a great performance at the stunning Community of Christ Temple in Independence, MO. This building reminds one of the nautilus shell inside and out—it's worth looking up on the Internet. The 1992 Casavant 4-manual, 5,685-pipe organ represents more than 20,000 hours of planning and building. A contrast to Todd's premiere of The Hands of Time by Jean-Baptiste Robin was his encore, Tea For Two, played oh-so schmaltzy.

A unique experience for me was a choral presentation sung in Hebrew called The Wedding of Solomon for SATB choir, mezzo-soprano, two baritone soloists, organ, and chamber orchestra; Ann Marie Rigler played the 4-manual 1888 Pilcher and Sons/1927 Reuter/1990s Mid-States Pipe Organ Co. Text was taken from the KJV of the Song of Solomon chapters 1, 3, 4, 5.

Another highlight was Kimberly Marshall's performance of two pieces for organ and orchestra at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts: Dialogue for Organ and Strings (2001) by Margaret Sandresky and Toccata Festiva (1959) by Samuel Barber. Each piece was wonderfully played by all performers.

Lastly, I have to tell of a huge private laugh I had during the Closing Ceremony. Thierry Escaich, a French composer, organist, and improviser, played his piece Quatre Visages du Temp—The Four Faces of Time. The four movements are Source, Masques, Romance, and After the Night. Some of the phrases composer Escaich used in the program to describe these movements are...in the long flow of this ample form, unable to totally alter the feeling of immutability...almost Vivaldian harmonic sequences sinking into darker spheres...struggling with its own distorted mirror...a tormented waltz...a kind of nothingness emerges...this cantus from the depths...comes back to distill this feeling of eternity. Do you get the picture? I sat there and listened to what seemed a totally random waterfall of notes that went on and on and suddenly I thought, "This is a totally pretentious piece of overblown crap!" But, when the piece was over, people around me leapt to their feet and applauded wildly. Oy, I must have been mistaken about this "cantus from the depths"!

I'm planning to attend next summer's regional convention in Milwaukee June 16–19, 2019—their chapter's 100th Anniversary. I hope you can join me.