Stunning Virtuosity caps Cathedral Organ celebration

For the last twenty-four years, it has been my privilege to play the organ at Trinity Cathedral.  Our fine Reuter pipe organ was installed a year before I arrived.  Custom built for our Cathedral, with maximum flexibility in mind, it has served us well for twenty-five years.  In celebration of those years, we have a had some organ recitals to highlight this magnificent musical instrument.
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Our celebration culminated last Saturday evening with a concert by the virtuoso organist Christopher Herrick.  Mr Herrick is one of the few organists in the world today, who has been able to dedicate his entire career to concertizing and recording.  His series of recordings “Organ Fireworks” is among the top selling organ music cd’s on the market.  His concert at Trinity Cathedral, with music especially chosen to showcase our instrument, showed why!

His program started with a definite crowd pleaser…  Percy Grainer’s jolly “Handel in the Strand.”  Ralph Vaughan-Williams “Prelude and Fugue in c minor” followed.  This dense and meaty work was handled deftly by Herrick… though I would say this was my least favorite piece on the program.

A set of variations on the folk song “The Old Folks at Home” by American composer Dudley Buck was next.  Starting out a bit sentimental, as one might expect, the variations got more intricate and exciting as the piece went on, culminating with a variation played mostly by the organist’s feet, sometimes involving double-pedaling (playing mltiple notes with the feet… very tricky!!).

French composer Alexandre Guilmant’s “Sonata #1 in d minor” finished of the first half.  This was the biggest piece on the program, and Herrick’s performance was a virtuostic tour-de-force of color and brilliance.

Following the intermission, Herrick continued with a set of variations on the French folk song “Ah vous dirai-je maman” by German classic composer J.C.H. Rinck, which was a delightful romp.  You’ve never heard “Twinkle-twinkle, little star” played like this before!

Following were three pieces from a suite by the young British composer Ian Farrington called “Fiesta!”  Stride Dance, Song, and Fast Dance were the highlighted movements, using  intricate jazz tinged harmony and rhythm, and displayed Herrick’s dazzling technique to the fullest.

The program concluded with one of the standard favorites of the organ repertoire “Carillon de Westminster” by Louis Vierne.  Vierne was the blind organist of Notre Dame Cathedral in the 1920’s and 30’s.  His carillon is loosely based on the famous chimes of Big Ben in London, and this performance earned Herrick a standing ovation, and audience an encore (the circus-like “Festmusik”)!!

All in all, a very satisfying performance from one of the world’s great organ virtuosos, and a wonderful conclusion to our Cathedral organ’s twenty-fifth birthday celebration.   And it was a special occasion for me… Christopher Herrick was my organ tutor at the Royal School of Church Music in England, and I hadn’t seen him in nearly thirty years!

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