Monday, March 9, 2009

Organ Music in Griswold Hall (and at Emmanuel: assembly required)

Is the Peabody Conservatory's Leith Symington Griswold Hall one of Baltimore's best kept secrets? I have seen it full to standing room only for some concerts (notably the Peabody Renaissance Ensemble's Christmas concerts), but sometimes it seems that more people should be aware of this beautiful room. Most of the time, the lovely pipe organ in its housing painted a creamy white to go with the hall's color scheme is a backdrop for concerts involving other instruments, but bring in an organist and a Titan awakens. Yesterday afternoon's recital by Peggy Haas Howell was only the third or fourth time I've heard this organ played, and I've been missing something wonderful here. If Howell's program had been limited to the Baroque, it would have been remarkable enough, but we had some Mendelssohn and some Louis Vierne (1870-1937), whose organ symphonies seem to be represented on most programs in only selected (but colorful!) movements. Finally, we also heard Pamela Decker's (b. 1955) "Tango-Toccata on a theme by Melchior Vulpius". Yes, I'm going to be looking for that one in a recording so I can hear it again. If you ever see it on a program for an upcoming recital, get yourself to that recital. (Truthfully, I also need to hear plenty of other organ music.)

I searched for a picture and more complete description of the organ and Griswold Hall. Here's a link to a page by Acoustic Dimensions, the company that remodeled the hall in the late 1990's. (Now I must look up "tracker organ".)

Meanwhile, the Emmanuel Episcopal Church a few blocks away has received its new organ. I asked about it while picking up a copy of the season program for Opera Vivente, which performs at the church, and I was directed to a pile of long cardboard crates behind a partition in the vestibule. No, I never imagined that a pipe organ was freighted complete to its destination, but it was so strange to see a new one of these huge instruments lying in pieces, waiting to be put together and brought to life again.

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