ORGAN + CHOIR FESTIVAL: A Night of Song, Celebration & Thanks
RECITAL REVIEW BY PAUL S. HESSELINK
The Southern Nevada Chapter of the American Guild of Organists closed out the 2018-2019 Organ Recital Series with an Organ and Choral Festival on Friday, June 7 at 7:30 P.M. in the Doctor Rando-Grillot Recital Hall in the Beam Music Center on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus. About 185 people were there to enjoy the program of organ and choral literature featuring two local choirs and four local AGO chapter members as organists.
Before the program began, Dean Steven R. Wright honored member Bruce Behnke for his twelve years of service as webmaster and editor of the chapter newsletter, The Desert Wind. Bruce was presented with a framed certificate acknowledging his contributions to the chapter, and a dining certificate to Flemings.
Diane Zapach, Director of Development for the College of Fine Arts at UNLV, gave the audience the good news that the Maurine Jackson Smith Endowment Fund for the Maintenance of the Rudolf von Beckerath organ, named in Mrs. Smith’s honor, has been fully subscribed, insuring that the instrument will be cared for in perpetuity. The endowment campaign will remain open until July 1 to allow anyone who wishes to be a part of the project to still be included on the plaque which will be hung at the entrance to the Doc Rando Recital Hall, and which will list the contributors to the endowment fund.
Dr. Dorothy Young Riess opened the program with two works from the modern French organ repertory. The first of the two works was the sixth movement, Joie et clarté des Corps Glorieux, of Olivier Messiaen’s 1939 organ cycle in seven movements, Les Corps Glorieux, in which he draws upon elements of Indian classical music and Gregorian chant. The score was completed at the outbreak of World War II, and even though it has been a part of the organ repertory for exactly 70 years, it still sounds “fresh,” and for the uninitiated, perhaps somewhat “difficult” to absorb.
This was followed by a more recent work by the French composer, Jacques Charpentier (1933-2017), L’ange a la Trompette, composed in 1954. In the prior three years to its composition, the composer had lived in India where he was influenced by Hindu music; he enrolled at the Paris Conservatory where he studied the philosophy of music with Olivier Messiaen. The style of Charpentier’s composition played by Dr. Riess without interruption from the Messiaen work, has unmistakable stylistic qualities which are heard as a direct influence. While 25 years more recent than Messiaen’s work, it is a slightly updated composition of Messiaen’s ground-breaking style and worked well as paired with Joie et clarté des Corps Glorieux. Dr. Riess’s performance of the two works was both powerful and stylish.
The recital continued with Barbara Finn’s presentation of the first two movements of Paul Hindemith’s Organ Sonata II, composed in 1937. While still 20th century in style, Hindemith’s work seemed almost “traditional” compared to the Messiaen and Charpentier compositions. Identifiable melodies, less dissonant chord structures, and quartal harmonies (built on the interval of the 4th rather than the traditional triadic structures based on the interval of the 3rd) gave the sense of being more connected to traditional tonal harmonies of music’s Common Practice Period. Ms. Finn’s performance deftly highlighted a terraced dynamic plan in the first movement marked Lebhaft (lively), and the second movement, Ruhig bewegt (peacefully moving), was played with grace and calm.
The Hindemith was followed by two anthems sung by the Choir of St. Joseph, Husband of Mary; Ms. Finn accompanied at the organ. She has been the Music Director of the church since 2000; the choir was under the direction of Joseph Cruz. The first anthem was one of Twelve Sacred Songs by Dutch composer Jan Nieland (1903-1963). Magnificat was composed in 1941. The choir concluded with Hal Hopson’s fine setting of Gustav Holst’s hymn tune Thaxted, “O God Beyond All Praising.”
Amy Homer Smith, organist at Green Valley Presbyterian Church, presented the formidable Fantaisie and Fugue in G Minor, BWV 542 by Johann Sebastian Bach. Some people think no organ recital should be without Bach, so this work satisfied those who wanted something more traditional from the organ literature. This work has a dramatic free fantasy beginning which returns throughout the composition, interspersed with more contrapuntal sections in a more strict and straight-forward style. The fugue has a “merry” theme (in spite of its minor mode) which the composer gives his usual extensive workout. Kudos go to Amy for tackling this challenging work.
Members of the Choir at Green Valley Presbyterian Church, under the direction of Kaymen Carter, followed with Mark Hayes’ transcendent setting of the beloved hymn, “The Old Rugged Cross,” and Philip W. J. Stopford’s arrangement of “Jesus Christ is Risen Again.” Both anthems were accompanied by Mrs. Smith.
The evening’s program concluded with Mary Beth Bennet’s lush Chant Mystique for English horn and organ. (Ms. Bennett was the commissioned composer of a new organ work, Las Vegas Suite, for the Chapter’s 2006 Western Regional AGO Convention held in Las Vegas. That work was premiered on that occasion.) Written in 2000, Chant Mystique, brought the evening’s program to an exceptionally peaceful close. The superb English horn performer was Coreen Levin, and she was accompanied by Paul S. Hesselink at the organ.
Following the program, our organ technician, Christian Lentz, hosted members of the audience on stage for an up close look and demonstration of the von Beckerath organ. This has been a popular feature of the last three recitals with about 20 to 25 audience members taking advantage of the opportunity.