Guest blogger and Organ expert Michael Barone explores our upcoming Handel • Rheinberger • Brossé concert featuring Dirk Brossé, conductor and Miho Saegusa (violin), Matt Glandorf (organ), Alan Morrison (organ), Jeffrey Brillhart (organ) in a four part series about this amazing night of concertos!
The January 19 Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia program offers a marvelous…and rare…opportunity to savor the evolution of an incredibly dynamic, colorful, and largely overlooked repertoire, the organ concerto. Not only will this exciting concert embrace a mini-history of the genre, but you will delight in the talents of three different soloists, each with his own idea of how best to showcase Verizon Hall’s magnificent Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ.
Here’s some back-story. George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) is credited with the invention of the organ concerto in 1735, bringing a ‘new sound’ to the London concert scene. Yes, Bach had put organ solos into cantata sinfonias and introduced the idea of the harpsichord concerto at Zimmermann’s Coffee House some years before. But we credit Handel because, while Bach was working in the relative obscurity of a modest German university town, Handel was an internationally known celebrity in a major capitol city. His organ concertos, of which we will hear the first (Opus 4, no. 1), attracted a large public, and his example spawned a new genre, quickly taken up by other English and European composers. At age 50 and at the height of his career, Handel really made news! And rightly so, since the scores he created for himself to play combine luminous and memorable themes with cogent and engaging architecture.
These were Handel’s 'star turns’, and folks flocked to hear him play and raved about the concerts afterwards. Keep in mind that Handel, an exceptional keyboard improvisor, left many sections of his concertos ad libitum, allowing him to spontaneously generate florid embellishments (and sometimes even entire movements) at a moment’s whim. Fortunately, our soloist Matthew Glandorff, director of music at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church nearby and director of the Choral Arts society, has a special knack for improvisation, so we are guaranteed that this performance of Handel will be absolutely unique, following the notes that Handel wrote, and also those he didn’t.
Handel (and Bach, and Vivaldi, who also featured interesting organ solos in various concerted pieces) got the ball rolling, and other late Baroque composers (such as Avison and Wesley and Arne in England, Michel Corrette and Jean-Francois Tapray in France), and early classical talents (Wagenseil, Brixi and Vanhal, followed by Haydn and Mozart, too) added their thoughts to the genre, but the emergence, emotive potency, and portability of the new-and-improved grand piano shifted the keyboard audience’s focus in another direction, just as the pipe organ was slipping out of fashion.
That might be simplifying the story, since late classical and early romantic composers here and there did continue to write organ concertos, but organists in general were sidelined in the post-Bach century’s concert scene, and only later in the 1800s do we experience a renaissance of this repertoire. And we’ll continue that story with our next blog post.
Check back on Friday for the next installment of this fabulous and informative Organ blog series!
About our Guest Blogger: Michael Barone has been employed at Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media for 45 years, for a quarter-century as music director and more recently as host/producer of national classical broadcasts such as PIPEDREAMS. He is a graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory, and awards from the American Guild of Organists, the Organ Historical Society, and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers have paid tribute to his lifelong contributions to the world of music.
This show is part of the Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ Series, and is co-presented by The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia and the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.
Organ performances are made possible through a donation by the Fred J. Cooper Restoration Fund as recommended by Frederick R. Haas and Daniel K. Meyer.