What’s behind the Disney Hall Organ makes it special

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Los Angeles Newspaper Group


Disney Hall organLR
The Walt Disney Concert Hall pipe organ celebrates its 10th anniversary this weekend with a series of concerts. (Photo from Los Angeles Philharmonic)
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My article and photos on the Walt Disney Concert Hall pipe organ, published online in Los Angeles News Group Web sites today, is HERE.

Additional notes on the organ:
• With 128 stops, the Disney Hall organ is unusually flexible, especially given its size. The word “stop” is ironic since to create sound organists draw the stop knobs toward them, whereas when they push the knob and the sound “stops.” There are 80 manual thumb pistons and 28 pedal toe-pistons that function like push buttons on a car radio, allowing the organist to set combinations of pipes (often called registering the organ). A computer provides 300 memory levels for the organist’s preset registrations, which gives an organist more than 32,000 different registrations.
• The main keyboard uses mechanical (aka “tracker”) action, with wooden rods connecting the 61 keys on four keyboards (manuals) to their pipes. The stage console uses electro-pneumatic lines to connect the keyboards to the keys. There’s quite a difference both the action of the keys and how the organist hears the sound, depending on whether they’re on the stage floor or enveloped in the pipes surrounding the main keyboard.
• The main keyboard and the stage console are each equipped with digital recorders for playback and archival purposes. Using that facility, the organist can record a piece and then sit in the hall to hear how it sounds to an audience member.
• Manuel Rosales and his company, Rosales Organ Builders, collaborated with the German firm Glatter-Götz Orgelbau on the mechanical design, tuning and voicing of the organ more than a decade ago. It was Rosales’ firm that did the voicing and tuning of the instrument once it was shipped from Germany and he continues to maintain it today.

Other concert hall organs:
• At 6,134 pipes in 109 ranks (or sets), the Disney Hall organ is one of the largest concert hall instruments in the world but not the largest. Others larger are:
— Davies Hall, San Francisco: 147 ranks, more than 8,000 pipes; built by Fratelli Ruffatti Co. of Padua, Italy and installed in 1984.
— Verizon Hall (Kimmel Center), Philadelphia: 125 ranks, 6,938 pipes; built by Dobson Pipe Organ Builders of Lake City, Iowa and installed in 2006.
• Locally the Disney Hall organ is roughly the same size as the Royce Hall, UCLA instrument, built in 1930 by the E.M. Skinner Co. and restored after the 1971 Sylmar earthquake. The Royce Hall organ has more pipes (6,600+) but less ranks (104) than the Disney Hall instrument.

E.M. Skinner was active during the first 1/3 of the 20th century. It merged in 1932 with the pipe organ division of the Æolian company to become the Æolian-Skinner Pipe Organ Co., one of America’s most significant organ-building companies until it closed in 1972.
• The Disney Hall organ is slightly smaller than the new organ (6,489 pipes, 116 ranks) built last year by Casavant Freres of St-Hyacinthe, Quebec for the Maison symphonique de Montréal, home to Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal.
• OTHERS: The Kennedy Center has a 5,000-pipe organ built by Casavant Freres. Dallas’ Meyerson Symphony Center’s organ, by C.B. Fisk, Inc. of Gloucester, Mass. with 4,535 pipes, which is somewhat larger than the William J. Gillespie Organ (also a Fisk) at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa (4,322 pipes). The Chicago Symphony Hall has a Casavant organ with 3,414 pipes (59 ranks).

Large church organs:
Many churches and cathedrals around the world have pipe organs larger than Disney Hall.
• First Congregational Church, Los Angeles, has a combination of pipe organs that add up 20,417 pipes (346 ranks). The main organs are an E.M. Skinner model built in 1937 in the chancel and a Schlicker model installed three decades later in the West Gallery. There are other divisions spread around the sanctuary. Everything can be played from either the Skinner or Schlicker keyboard.
• Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove (formerly the Crystal Cathedral) has a Ruffatti instrument that was designed for The Rev. Robert Schuller’s original church and then reinstalled in the Crystal Cathedral in 1962. There it was combined with the 1962 Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ once housed at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City’s Lincoln Center. The organ, currently under restoration by Ruffatti, has nearly 16,000 pipes (273 ranks).
• Lake Ave. Church in Pasadena has a Casavant organ with more than 7,000 pipes (125 ranks).

World’s largest pipe organs:
The world’s largest pipe organ is in the seven-story-high court at Macy’s Department Store (formerly Wanamaker’s) in Philadelphia. This instrument was originally built in in 1904 for the St. Louis World’s Fair by the Los Angeles Art Organ Company, which was formed after the Murray M. Harris Co. folded. (Harris was one of the notable organ builders at the turn of the 20th century — the organ at the First Church of Christ Science, Pasadena, is a Harris, as is the organ at Stanford University’s Memorial Church). After the St. Louis World’s Fair, John Wanamaker bought the organ for his department store.

The second-largest organ is in the Cadet Chapel at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY. Designed in 1911 by another legendary 20th century organ builder, M.P. Moeller, and later enlarged it has 23,236 pipes in 380 ranks.
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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PREVIEW: Peninsula Symphony to open its 48th season Sunday

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
The Los Angeles News Group

My preview of the Peninsula Symphony’s opening concert of its 48th season in Redondo Beach is posted online HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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PREVIEW UPDATE: Carpenter’s pre-concert recital program announced

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

If you needed another reason to attend this weekend’s concerts by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Phil has announced the pieces that organist Cameron Carpenter will play in recitals prior to the concerts. They will take place at 6:45 p.m. in the main auditorium on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 12:45 p.m. on Sunday, which represents a change in both time and location from the usual “Upbeat Live” lectures.

The program will be:
Bach: Trio Sonata No. 3 in D Minor
Gershwin/Carpenter: Love Walked In
Messiaen: Dieu Parmi Nous (God Among us), the final movement of Messiaen’s massive 1935 opus, La Nativité du Seigneur (The Nativity of our Lord)

These recitals will certainly show off Carpenter’s artistry and the instrument’s versatility. Be prepared to be pinned to your seats by the final piece!

You can follow the thread of my articles on these concerts HERE.

Concert information from the LAPO Web site is HERE:
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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PREVIEW: Cameron Carpenter, L.A. Philharmonic, to celebrate Disney Hall Organ

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

My preview article on the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s concerts next weekend (Nov. 20-23) with organist Cameron Carpenter is published on Los Angeles News Group Web sites HERE. It will be published in the above papers Sunday.

Carpenter-w-ITOCameron Carpenter poses in front of his International Touring Organ, on which is now playing nearly of his solo recitals.

Cameron Carpenter’s digital revolution

Wacky and Wonderful. Goofy and Genius. There are more nicknames attached to organist Cameron Carpenter than his age (33). The Los Angeles Philharmonic, on its Web site, terms Carpenter a “subversive organ virtuoso” and an “audacious arranger.”

Finding a single descriptive word or phrase is impossible. Mark Swed in the Los Angeles Times has written: “Carpenter is one of the rare musicians who changes the game of his instrument… He is a smasher of cultural and classical music taboos. He is technically the most accomplished organist I have ever witnessed… And, most important of all, the most musical.”

Carpenter has been a lightning-rod figure in the world of classical music since he emerged onto the scene as a pre-teen. He was born in rural northwestern Pennsylvania and home schooled by his parents (who he described in one article as “ex-hippies”). He began playing the piano at age 4 and at the same age fell in love with the organ, not because he heard one but because of a photo he saw in a music encyclopedia of someone playing the cinema organ from the 1920s. “I was immediately mesmerized by the glamour of the instrument,”

Carpenter continued his piano lessons and performed Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier at age 11 before joining the American Boychoir School in 1992 as a boy soprano, where he again became interested in the organ. He made his European debut as an organist when he was 13.

During his four years of high school studies at The North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, Carpenter played for the First Baptist Church and was resident organist at the Reynolda House of American Art. While in high school, Carpenter also studied orchestration and orchestral composition and transcribed for the organ more than 100 major works, including Gustav Mahler’s complete Symphony No. 5.

Carpenter went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees at The Juilliard School where he studied with such organ luminaries as Gerre Hancock, John Weaver and Paul Jacobs; the latter has been chair of the organ department at Juilliard since 2004, despite being just four years older than Carpenter.

Carpenter also continued composing at Juilliard: art songs; the symphonic poem Child of Baghdad for orchestra, chorus and Ondes Martenot; his first substantial works for solo organ; and numerous organ arrangements of piano works by Chopin, Godowsky, Grainger, Ives, Liszt, Medtner, Rachmaninoff, Schumann, and others.

Carpenter has played pipe organs throughout the world, growing increasingly dissatisfied with the limitations each instrument places on the performer. Those limitations include where the console is located, often hidden from the audience. For make no mistake, Carpenter is, first and foremost, a performer. He often strolls into the hall an hour before each recital talking and shaking hands with friends and strangers alike.

Cameron_CarpenterThe performing environment is critical to Carpenter and it’s one reason he loves playing the organ in Walt Disney Concert Hall. “I believe that music is both an aural and a visual art and the entire look of Disney Hall and its organ exemplifies that,” he told me. But asked how long it would take to register the Disney Hall organ for this weekend’s programs (Barber’s Toccata Festiva, Carpenter’s transcription of Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 4, Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 and a preconcert recital), he groaned, “Too long!”

That was one of the frustrations that led him to Marshall & Ogletree, of Needham, Mass. Together they have built what he calls the International Touring Organ, a massive, innovative digital instrument that Carpenter now uses for his recitals. The ITO (which nearly fills a concert hall stage) has a console that is 9’ x 7’ and 10, and gigantic speakers, each 2.5 x 4.5 feet.

Unlike violinists, who travel with and plays their personal instruments, organists (and pianists) are at the mercy of the instrument in the hall or church. Vladimir Horowitz, who had a reputation for eccentricity similar to Carpenter’s, traveled with his own Steinway piano. Until now an organist could not do this, except for one: Virgil Fox, who in the 1970s traveled with an analog Rodgers Touring (electronic) organ and then an Allen Organ.

However, comparing those instruments to the ITO is to compare, well, analog and digital formats. Among other advantages, the digital age enables Carpenter to program thousands of sounds from the organs that he has most admired into the ITO. One way to hear just how amazing the instrument sounds is on his newly released SONY CD, If You Could Read My Mind. If you have a top-notch sound system in your car or at home, the music will rattle your windows.

Remarkably the ITO takes far less time to set up than it takes Carpenter to register a pipe organ. The entire instrument fills a single truck. Load in begins at 9 a.m. on the day of the recital and by about 11:15 a.m. the instrument is set up and ready for testing. Carpenter spends five hours in the afternoon testing, checking the hall’s acoustics and rehearsing. Load out after the concert takes a mere two hours.

The ITO made its debut in New York last March and in Europe two months later. Carpenter already has 90 performances booked for next year. Identical European and American sound systems (housed in Berlin and Needham, MA) make this truly an “international” touring organ.

Moreover, the ITO opens up thousands of venues that don’t have a pipe organ and he will even use the ITO in places where a pipe organ exists, such as the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia next January and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. in February.

Thus, the Disney Hall recital in which he will play this Sunday and the preconcert recitals before the Thursday, Friday and Saturday concerts will be increasingly rare events: hearing Cameron Carpenter playing a recital an actual pipe organ. “It has,” says Carpenter, “taken far less time than I would have imagined to eradicate any solos on pipe organs from my itinerary.”
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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PROFILE: Stephen Hartke is ready for a long-delayed closeup

hurricanemama_headBy Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

Los Angeles Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor.
Barber: Toccata Festiva; Cameron Carpenter, organist
Hartke: Symphony No. 4; Joanne Pearce Martin, organist, Heidi Stober, soprano
Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3 (“Organ”); Cameron Carpenter, organist
• Nov. 20 and 21 at 8 p.m. Nov. 22 at 2 p.m.
NOTE: In place of a preconcert recital, Cameron Carpenter will play a recital at 6:45 p.m. Thursday and Friday and at 12:45 p.m. on Saturday.
Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles
Information: 323/850-2000; www.laphil.com
• Nov. 23 at 2 p.m. Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa
Same program; Rich Capparella will give a preconcert lecture at 1 p.m.
Information: 949/553-2422; www.philharmonicsociety.org
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HartkeMore than four years after it was supposed to debut, Symphony No. 4 by Stephen Hartke (right) will finally get its world premiere during a highly appropriate weekend, as the Los Angeles Philharmonic celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Walt Disney Concert Hall with concerts on Nov. 20, 21, 22 and 23.

LAPO Music Director Gustavo Dudamel will conduct the programs, which will include Barber’s Toccata Festiva and Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 (“Organ”), with Cameron Carpenter as the soloist.

What makes Harke’s three-movement work appropriate is that he always intended it to be a symphony for orchestra with organ. “It’s not an organ concerto,” says the 62-year-old Glendale resident, who has taught composition at the USC Thornton School of Music for 27 years. “My idea all along was to use the organ as an integral part of the orchestra, as a fifth choir, so to speak [Ed. Note: along with strings, winds, brass and percussion]. It’s the largest symphony that I have written — when you have as big an instrument as the Disney Hall organ, you have to respond to it.”

Symphony No. 4 was originally scheduled to be the in the final concert of Dudamel’s inaugural season in 2009-2010 but a combination of circumstances caused a delay. “Some pieces take a long to write; some pieces don’t,” he explains with a shrug. “Along the way I had other pieces to write, so here we are.”

During the past decade the work also underwent a significant change. “I happened upon a [Frederico Garcia] Lorca “gypsy ballad” poem, Sleepwalking Ballad,” relates Hartke, “and so the end of the symphony became like Mahler 4, where the main drama of the piece has been played out and you have an aria at the end, a reflection on some of the issues in the piece, that kind of takes the piece in a different direction.”

Why Lorca? “I don’t know precisely why Sleepwalking Ballad struck me as a fitting ending for the piece,” concedes Hartke, “but once I read it I couldn’t get it out of my head. Lorca’s poetry is very vivid and serene at the same time.” (Read the poem’s text HERE) American soprano Heidi Stober will sing the poetic ballad in this weekend’s performances.

Perhaps it was ordained that Hartke would write this work. “I’ve been wanting to write a piece for organ for a long time,” says Hartke, who was composer-in-residence for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra from 1988 to 1992. When he was an undergrad at UC Santa Barbara he served for a time as organist for a small church in Isla Vista, “but I wouldn’t boast about it,” he admits with a chuckle.

However as he came to know the Disney Hall organ, he fell in love with it. “I got to spend a fair amount of time with the instrument on off hours and holidays and decided on a kind of palette of things I wanted to do,” he explains.

“In the first movement the organist mostly plays single line but it does things that only the organ can do, such as shaking the floor a little bit. In the middle section, I use registrations that create colors, and overtones to create sounds that are almost like what you get in percussion and strings. In the last movement I let the organist pull out all the stops, to use that metaphor in its literal sense. In the end, it turned out to be a more extensive part that I expected it would be.”

Martin_playing4WebIt was also a piece that was written specifically for the L.A. Phil under a commission from Edward Halvajian (1935-2009), former chairman of the Orange County Philharmonic Society. “It was my plan in the beginning to write a piece that would use the entire roster of the orchestra,” he says.

Joanne Pearce Martin (pictured right playing the Walt Disney Concert Hall organ) — who has been the orchestra’s principal keyboard player since 2001 and will be playing the organ part — is excited about the upcoming premiere. “I can’t wait to hear the piece with the orchestral,” she said earlier this week. “So far, all I’ve been able to do is visualize the orchestral part in my mind from studying the whole score. The organ part is very colorful, very intricate; there’s a lot of weaving in and out of the orchestra. It’s a very beautiful piece.. I think it’s going to be great.”

The premiere will put Hartke in the spotlight, which also happened in 2013 when he won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition. His Meanwhile — Incidental Music to Imaginary Puppet Plays was recorded by eighth Blackbird, which also won a Grammy for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance that year.

“It wasn’t a surprise that eight Blackbird got a Grammy for the disc,” say Hartke, “but it was a surprise that I got it. I’ve never kept track of the Grammys; it was amusing to go to the ceremony. It probably meant more to my students than to me. I just have this funny-looking thing in the other room that I have to dust once in awhile.”
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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