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Eastman School of Music celebrates “Bach and the Organ” Sept 27-30

The Eastman Rochester Organ Initiative of the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music and the American Bach Society are partnering to present “Bach and the Organ,” an extraordinarily synergistic festival of performances and scholarship, September 27-30 in Rochester, NY. There will be performances at Christ Church on the one-of-kind Craighead-Saunders Organ, the most important instrument in North America for performance of Bach-era music. These will include a re-creation of Mendelssohn’s 1840 Leipzig concert of Bach’s organ music, which was Mendelssohn’s only public recital on the organ and which revived interest in the 18th century composer. Along with recitals on other historic organs and on a pedal clavichord at the Eastman School of Music, there will be a gala concert consisting of a Bach organ concerto and festive cantatas by the Boston Early Music Festival Chamber Ensemble directed by Paul O’Dette, and Christ Church Schola Cantorum directed by Stephen Kennedy, with such distinguished soloists as soprano Ellen Hargis and countertenor Daniel Taylor.
A recent New York Times article described just how special the Craighead-Saunders Organ, named for two legendary Eastman organ professors, is:
The ceremonial pipe organ of the 18th century was the Formula One racer of its time, a masterpiece of human ingenuity so elegant in its outward appearance that a casual observer could only guess at the complexity that lay within. Each organ was designed to fit its intended space, ranging in size from local churches where townspeople could worship to vast cathedrals fit for royalty. The builders were precision craftsmen celebrated for their skill in hand-making thousands of moving parts and in shaping and tuning metal and wooden pipes to mimic the sounds of each instrument in an orchestra.
The effect was breathtaking. “Each instrument speaks to you in a different way,” said Hans Davidsson, a concert organist, sitting before the console of the organ at the cavernous Christ Church, Episcopal, in Rochester. Dr. Davidsson began to play the Bach hymn “Gottes Sohn Ist kommen” (“The Son of God Has Come”), and an enormous, bell-clear sound exploded from the gleaming pipes that soared above him. The organ, the Craighead-Saunders, is a unique instrument, not only because of its lovely sound, but also because it is a nearly exact copy of a late Baroque organ built by Adam Gottlob Casparini of East Prussia in 1776. The original stands in the Holy Ghost Church in Vilnius, Lithuania. There is no other contemporary organ quite like the one at Christ Church.
Davidsson – who oversaw construction of the Craighead-Saunders Organ while director of Eastman Rochester Organ Initiative – said: “One of the goals of the reconstruction was to not only re-create the qualities of this organ as a historical artifact, but also to capture the grander, more enveloping sound character produced by organs in Bach’s time and cultural environment. Contemporary organs do not sound the same as historical organs. This project provided organists and organ students with an instrument more suitable for the music of Johann Sebastian Bach than any organ found anywhere else in North America.”
The recitalists for “Bach and the Organ” will include Davidsson, Robert Bates, Edoardo Bellotti, David Higgs, Jacques van Oortmerssen, William Porter, and Joel Speerstra. There will also be  sessions on new Bach editions, manuscript studies, and the organ’s role in 18th century vocal instrumental music, with some of the world’s greatest Bach scholars making presentations, including keynote speaker Peter Williams (noted Bach scholar and author); Christoph Wolff (Harvard University); Peter Wollny (Bach-Archiv, Leipzig); and many others.
The festival in Rochester will be “the Bach event of the year, bringing together many of the world’s top Bach performers and scholars,” says David Higgs, professor of organ and chair of the organ and historical keyboards department at the Eastman School of Music. “Participants will be able to hear Bach’s famous organ solo works, concertos, and cantatas on a faithful re-creation of a central German-style organ from the late 18th century – a fresh, inspiring way to hear the music of Bach. Other significant historical as well as new instruments will round out the offerings of organ music by the greatest composer for that instrument. The Eastman School is excited to collaborate with the American Bach Society on this event, and we are also grateful to the Westfield Center for their continued collaboration.”
“Bach and the Organ”: Performance Highlights
Sept 27, 8pm
Re-creation of Mendelssohn’s 1840 Leipzig Bach organ concert
Hans Davidsson, David Higgs, William Porter
Craighead-Saunders Organ, Christ Church
Sept 28, 8pm
Recital by Jacques van Oortmerssen
Craighead-Saunders Organ, Christ Church
Sept 29, 1pm
Pedal-Clavichord recital by Joel Speerstra
Hatch Recital Hall
Sept 29, 6pm and 8:30pm
Concert of Bach organ concerto and cantatas by Bach and Stölzel
Soprano Ellen Hargis; countertenor Daniel Taylor; tenor Jason McStoots; baritone Jesse Blumberg; organists Eduardo Bellotti and William Porter; Boston Early Music Festival Chamber Ensemble, Paul O’Dette, director; Christ Church Schola Cantorum, Stephen Kennedy, director
Craighead-Saunders Organ, Christ Church
Sept 30, 2pm
Recital by Robert Bates (Bach’s Clavierübung III)
Halloran-All Saints Organ by Paul Fritts, Sacred Heart Cathedral
Sept 30, 5:30pm
Recital by Edoardo Bellotti (“Bach and the Italian Influence”)
Italian Baroque Organ, Fountain Court, Memorial Gallery







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