Inaugural Festivities

Unveiling the New Instrument: November 2010

Cornell Baroque Organ

Cornell unveiled her new baroque organ on Sunday, November 21, 2010 with its first public performances at 3 PM and 5:30 PM in Anabel Taylor Chapel. University organists Annette Richards and David Yearsley played works by Buxtehude, Handel, and Bach. They were joined by Jacques van Oortmerssen, a celebrated and much-missed perofrmer, internationally renowned for his versatility and for his performances of the music of J. S. Bach. Van Oortmerssen concluded the concert with JS Bach's Prelude and Fugue in C Major, BWV 547, and "O Mensch, bewein' dein' S'nde gross," BWV 622, alongside Mendelssohn's Organ Sonata No. 2 in C Minor, op. 65, and works by Krebs and Kellner.

A thrilled audience heaped lavish praise on the new instrument, and the "phenomenal" experience of hearing it for the first time. Hedvig Lockwood, a local resident, called the concert "thrilling," adding, "I found things happening in my spine." "It's a fantastically exciting organ and three brilliant organists. It really is a big deal," said Malcolm Bilson, Emeritus Frederick J. Whiton Professor of Music. Read the Cornell Chronicle's report of the event here: Full Story

Preludes to the Inauguration

Prior to the six-day inaugural and dedication celebration on campus, Professor of music David Yearsley tested the new baroque pipe organ in Anabel Taylor Chapel with Midday Music performances of J.S. Bach's Trio Sonatas, whetting the appetite of Cornellians, as reported by the Cornell Chronicle: Full Story

Inaugural Conference and Concert Festival, March 2011

The schedule of concerts for March 2011 featured a wealth of celebrated organists and friends. Harald Vogel, professor of organ at the University of the Arts Bremen and founder of the North German Organ Academy, performed the inaugural recital. Jacques van Oortmerssen, professor of Organ at the Amsterdam Conservatory, performed an all-J. S. Bach program, alongside other concerts by Jean Ferrard, professor at the Royal Conservatory, Brussels, and Cornell Professors of Music Annette Richards and David Yearsley, the latter joined by Steven Zohn, baroque flute, professor of music at Temple University, and Kristen Dubenion-Smith, mezzo-soprano.

Harald Vogel's keynote concert was eagerly anticipated; his is a name instantly familiar to those conversant with baroque organ music as a leading authority on the interpretation of German organ music from the eighteenth century and earlier. Hailed as "King of the Buxtehude players," by a reviewer for Fanfare Magazine, Vogel played music by Buxtehude, Sweelinck, Bruhns, and the Bachs in his keynote. One of the highlights of the concert was Vogel's interpretation of the Praeludium in E minor by Nicolaus Bruhns (one of the great works of the 17th-century North German repertoire) as Bruhns' answer to Monteverdi's opera Orfeo, complete with narrative. Vogels knowledge of organ building also made him an obvious choice: he has consulted on restorations and original creations such as Stanford University's Memorial Church, St. Paul's in Tokyo, and Goteborg's Orgryte Nya Kyrkan.

"Harald Vogel has been the main person responsible for the restoration and rescue of countless historic organs, especially those of Arp Schnitger, since the 1960's," Annette Richards wrote for Cornell news at the time. "He's the person who brought the whole north German 17th-century repertoire of music out of the shadows: he played it and taught other people how to play it. Just about everyone who wants to play this music and these organs studies with him, so he has generations and generations of students. And he's still incredibly energetic and articulate and devoted to the organ. ... He's excited to be coming here to play this beautiful new instrument. For us, it will be an unforgettable experience to hear him play it."

Keyboard Culture in 18th-Century Berlin and the German Sense of History

The celebration of Cornell's new baroque pipe organ included an academic conference, entitled "Keyboard Culture in 18th-Century Berlin and the German Sense of History," which explored music and culture in 18th-century Berlin, as well as the background and history associated with the Arp Schnitger organ on which Cornell's new instrument is modeled. The conference featured talks by distinguished musicologists, including keynote-speaker Laurenz Litteken (Professor of Music, University of Zurich), Vanessa Agnew (Associate Professor of German Studies, University of Michigan), and Richard Kramer (Distinguished Professor of Music, CUNY Graduate Center), alongside new work by graduate students in the musicology program at Cornell. Presentations looked broadly at keyboard music of all sorts and in various contexts; while the focus was on the organ, participants also heard, and heard about, music for fortepiano, harpsichord and clavichord. 

Words of Welcome from the Inaugural Concert

performance in Anabel Taylor Hall

Leslie Adelson, director of Cornell's Institute for German Cultural Studies, offered words of welcome at the beginning of the festival. This organ, said Adelson, is "both an extraordinary instrument for musical performance and an equally extraordinary catalyst for intellectual inquiry across the disciplines - History really does come alive in this remarkable project, and it calls to each of us in different and myriad ways. "For the study of German culture I can tell you that it offers a treasure trove of insights into the science and technology of artisanal craft, the development and phenomenology of a nation's musical taste, the importance of German feet and pedals for sound cultures in Europe, urban losses in 20th-century warfare, and even the global value of sustainable forest in a country where live oak has symbolic value too. The new baroque organ that now offers each of us an inspiring and moving musical experience also opens a very large window onto early modern and modern German cultures and the many intellectual instruments available to study them. "More than this, I would say, Cornell's new baroque organ is a vivid example of what human endeavor at its best can be. The extraordinary collective accomplishment we are here to celebrate today is a unique gift to all of us from many uniquely gifted individuals from our own backyard, so to speak, and from around the world. Their inspired international collaboration over several years bequeaths to us a whole far greater than the sum of its truly exceptional parts. To Cornell's new baroque organ I thus say "well come!" "And to all those who have lent their extraordinary skills and personal dedication to the realization of this project, I say "thank you" for a work of art expertly and generously done. To my colleague [professor of music] Annette Richards, an incomparable phenomenon in her own right, one whose far-seeing vision, creative wisdom, and countless hours of hard work have made this all possible and shown us what heights can be achieved when great gifts resonate together, I can only extend the kind of very special thanks for which words will never suffice."

Conference Report from the Cornell Chronicle

The sounds of 18th-century Berlin came alive during the inaugural conference and concert festival celebrating Cornell's new $2 million baroque organ, March 8-13, 2011. The handcrafted organ in Anabel Taylor Chapel re-creates the tonal design of an instrument built by Arp Schnitger in 1706 at the Charlottenburg palace chapel in Berlin - "one of the high points in the music history of Berlin," reflecting the "high cultural ambitions" of the new century, according to organist Harald Vogel, who performed a keynote concert March 12 featuring Bruhns' "Orfeo" and several preludes and fugues by J.S. Bach. Full Story

21st-Century Music for a 21st Century Organ


Award-winning electronic music composer Kevin Ernste, professor of music and director of the Cornell Electroacoustic Music Center, opened the organ dedication's keynote concert with a special inaugural composition, performed by University Organist, Annette Richards, who saw this as "an exciting opportunity to showcase the organ as a vehicle for new music." According to Ernste, the piece is titled "Anacrusis," invoking the anticipation and the suspension of time that happened in the construction of this organ, as well as the name of Anabel Taylor Chapel, the organ's home. Ernste opens the piece with the hissing of a misaligned organ pipe and the sounds of woodwork and construction, which were performed by representatives of the organ project, including case maker Chris Lowe, organ designer Munetaka Yokota, volunteers Maureen Chapman and Jeff Snedeker, undergraduate students and others. Then came a blast of all the organ pipes at once. Ernste intended the ensuing resonant silence to create an awareness of the physical space, while sounds of hammers and hand planes invoke the organ's creation. This opening sound cluster recurs but eventually gives way to a borrowed melody from the beginning of J.S. Bach's Passacaglia in C minor, BWV 582, itself filled with suspensions and anacrusi. Ernste transforms the Bach into an elongated series of suspensions using special software he wrote especially for this piece. Late in the composition Ernste brings in recordings of other Cornell organs. "I had this idea that even the other organs on campus would have some sense of anticipation, almost like welcoming a new sibling," he says. "Their collective character turns into a kind of haze, but they're also each in slightly different tuning systems, so that blast of sonic richness that begins the piece becomes, at the end, an amalgamation of all of these voices coming together."

Recitative and Aria for the Dedication of an Organ

Then Cornell doctoral candidate Zachary Wadsworth had composed music for other organs, but he saw Cornell's organ as an extraordinary instrument; "it's going to be around for a very long time, and that's something really magical, to be there right when it's being created." "Recitative and Aria for the Dedication of an Organ," composed for the March 11th concert, was performed by David Yearsley, organist and Cornell professor of music; Steven Zohn, baroque flutist and Temple University professor of music; and Kristen Dubenion-Smith, mezzo-soprano. Wadsworth used two 19th century English poems (see below) praising the organ as his texts for the semi-operatic, oratorio style-piece. Composing for the organ poses a unique challenge, says Wadsworth, because each organ is so different. And although his "Recitative and Aria" was written specifically to show off the beauty of Cornell's organ, he says that "it's a tricky balance that you have to negotiate whenever you write for the organ. You have to write something that is very native to the organ that you're writing for, in the specific moment that you write it. But you also should write something that could be performed on other organs." Asked about the place of new music on historic instruments, Wadsworth notes that because classical music in the 20th century was typically performed in a romantic style, authentic early music sounds new to modern ears. "I think there's a natural sort of friendliness between early music and new music performance," says Wadsworth, "just because these are sounds that fall outside of the classical mainstream, but are still exquisitely beautiful. And so it can take you to a new place, an exciting place as a listener and as a composer." That's the excitement of working with early instruments.

RECITATIVE (from "The Organ-Blower" [1872] By Oliver Wendell Holmes)

This many-diapasoned maze, Through which the breath of being strays, Whose music makes our earth divine, Has work for mortal hands like mine. My duty lies before me. Lo, The lever there! Take hold and blow! And He whose hand is on the keys Will play the tune as He shall please.

ARIA (from "Abt Vogler" by Robert Browning)

Would that the structure brave, the manifold music I build, Bidding my organ obey, calling its keys to their work, Claiming each slave of the sound, at a touch, as when Solomon willed Armies of angels that soar, legions of demons that lurk, Man, brute, reptile, fly,--alien of end and of aim, Adverse, each from the other heaven-high, hell-deep removed,-- Should rush into sight at once as he named the ineffable Name, And pile him a palace straight, to pleasure the princess he loved! Would it might tarry like his, the beautiful building of mine, This which my keys in a crowd pressed and importuned to raise! Ah, one and all, how they helped, would dispart now and now combine, Zealous to hasten the work, heighten their master his praise!

Encouraging a New Way of Listening

Until the middle of the eighteenth century, many organs were designed with the console and organist hidden away. "One of the reasons for the very elaborate beauty of many organ cases is that what the listener is looking at is not the performer but the case," explains Annette Richards, professor of music and university organist. "One listens differently when not looking at the performer," says Richards. "I'm hoping that people coming to hear concerts at this baroque organ will learn to listen in a slightly different way and will experience the music they hear in a way that they might not have expected. I'm confident that the sound of this instrument is dynamic enough, and exciting enough, that people will be so taken up by it that they won't necessarily miss being able to see the performer." Although the inaugural concert bowed to modern habits and included a camera and screen that displayed the performers, Richards feels "it's important for people to actually learn to experience the music in an instrument like this as part of the sounding space, rather than something that just comes from the human agent at the keyboard." Another aspect of being invisible to the audience is that the organist must play extremely well, says Richards. "There's no refuge in making it look interesting. Performers actually have to do something with their fingers and the sheer manipulation of the sound without the visual aspects. That's also an education for the performer, I think."