Young Organist Presents Stunning Program


Twenty-two year old organist Clara Gerdes wowed an audience of 110 persons in a spectacular program of all-late nineteenth century to present day compositions for the organ. The program was presented on Friday, September 14 at 7:30 P.M. on the 2004 Rudolf von Beckerath Maurine Jackson Smith Memorial Organ in Dr. Rando-Grillot Recital Hall in the Beam Music Center on the UNLV campus.

Ms. Gerdes, from Davidson, North Carolina, is a fifth-year student at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia where she studies with Alan Morrison. She is the winner of first prizes in the Albert Schweitzer, AGO-Quimby Mid-Atlantic Regional, and the University of North Carolina School of the Arts organ competitions; she was the recipient of the first annual AGO Pogorzelski-Yankee Scholarship.

Recognizing that the general public’s musical taste is “stuck” somewhere near the Tchaikovsky style, presenting a program of music all composed since 1891 (the date of the composition of Dvorak’s Carnival Overture; her program opened with Edwin H. Lemare’s transcription), carries an inherent risk. The musical public often finds itself challenged to appreciate newer music even though the music may be more than 50 or more years old. Ms. Gerdes’ program, however, seemed to capture the attention and admiration of the audience. It is a testimony to the daring, excellence and dynamism of her performance of the works presented; everyone recognized the technical and musical quality of her performance.

For most people in the audience there were no “old chestnuts” or familiar works on the program. We heard a rarely performed Fantasy Chorale in D-flat Major by the English composer Percy Whitlock (not much per-formed these days), American composer David Conte’s 1992 Pastorale and Toccata, two movements (Forlane and Rigaudon) from Maurice Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin and transcribed for the organ by Ms. Gerdes. Flor Peeters’ “classic” Aria, Op. 51 from 1945 was the perfect set-up for the final show-stopping quixotic Gershwinesca (2000) by the Lebanese-French organist-composer Naji Hakim. This virtuosic tour-de-force was certainly the most “far out” work on the program, and surprisingly, when asked which selections on the program they particularly enjoyed, the largest number of respondents cited the Hakim!.

It was an auspicious opening recital for the 2018-2019 Organ Recital Series, the chapter’s fourteenth season.

Kevin Coney