Last Friday, Providence Methodist Church was filled to capacity, approximately 1200, to hear Alan Morrison perform the Dedication Recital of their newly installed organ, the venerable Aeolian-Skinner Opus 1472 as the core of Parkey Opus 14. Phil Parkey wrote, “The organ received new main windchests, complete winding systems, and new cases and facades to complement its new home in the Sanctuary of Providence United Methodist Church.” It is noteworthy to point out that Irv Lawless, who originally installed the organ in the Kennedy Center in 1971 was involved in this project and was present at this dedication.
After opening remarks lasting eighteen minutes, Alan came to the console, positioned at an angle in the center chancel, and began the “Saint Anne.” It and everything save the Stover and the Weaver were from memory. Here is the complete program.
- Prelude and Fugue in E-flat Major, BWV 552
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
- Ciaconna in B-flat Major
Johann Bernhard Bach (1676-1749)
- Scherzo, Opus 2
Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986)
- Fantasy in A Major from Trois Pièces
César Franck (1822-1890)
- Final from Symphony IV
Louis Vierne (1870-1937)
Anne Wilson (b 1954)
- At Evening and Quick Dance from Mountain Music
Harold Stover (b 1946)
Charles Callahan (b 1951)
Leo Sowerby (1895-1968)
- Variations on Sine Nomine (encore)
John Weaver (b 1937)
The registration for the Prelude and Fugue in E-flat was a good solid foundation for Bach, and Alan was secure in his Baroque technique to keep it interesting throughout with many changes of registration. The sound of the last Aeolian-Skinner is noticeably thinner than most of its earlier siblings, but it’s a great fit for Baroque music, which was I believe the original intent of their organs from that time. There were a few tiny slips and memory spots but nothing of note. Alan can recover from anything with style and grace, as you will learn later. Also, just before the fugue, the ceiling lights were turned off, probably not on purpose. How dramatic!
His comments between the pieces were comfortable and informative, just the right length and tone to communicate what he wanted to this audience. Most of the audience was made of members of the church and others interested in organ music. There were a few AGO members in attendance, but not as many as one might expect. I saw several people who used to listen to Dan Miller play on the V/205 Calvary Grand Möller and they attend organ concerts in the area wherever and whenever one is held. We have many fine organs in Charlotte and we all want more organ concerts!
Johann Bernhard was Sebastian’s cousin and his music couldn’t be more different from the great Bach. The texture was light and melodic and the registration showed the lighter flutes, sometimes with tremulant, and a short dose of the Zimbelstern.
The sound of the organ is to my ear thinner than is best suited for the next three French pieces. In the Franck, I heard an unevenness in a pedal reed as it was played stepwise. The Swell flutes retain all of the chiffiness heard in the original installation; it drew undue attention to itself. The Vox Humana, an additional rank by Parkey, was just great, and Alan explained it to the audience. I did not like the use of the new horizontal trumpet here. The Vierne was, in my opinion, the most successful of the French music, due largely to its texture which was mostly not sustained.
The second half of the concert was superb, and I saw absolutely no one leave after intermission. Providence’s new organ is outstanding for recent music (we don’t use the “contemporary” word), and Alan Morrison was the perfect organist for this. These next pieces demonstrated the best of both living composers and this new organ.
Anne Wilson’s personable toccata proved to be a great way to catch and retain the attention of a general audience. Here the horizontal “Fanfare” trumpet was just perfect! The audience could tell that Alan enjoyed playing it.
I was looking forward to hearing Harold Stover’s Mountain Music, and the two pieces from the three piece suite did not disappoint. The Shaker melody in “At Evening” was beautiful, and again the solo voices of the organ demonstrated their color and flexible use. If you are a strong proponent of American music as I am, you would appreciate the “Quick Dance,” a 100% American hoe-down. The registration offered many of the orchestral voices in a lively and energetic dance, and the audience loved it. According to Alan, this was the second version of the piece, first called “Barn Dance.”
In the commentary following, the artist told a story of his telling an organist about Charles Callahan’s “Aria,” probably his most famous piece, and how it was written in a “very difficult” key with too many flats. The piece was transposed from Eb-minor to E-minor with only one sharp so it would be easier. Of course, Alan played it in Eb-minor.
I have seen disastrous performances of Sowerby’s Pageant. This one started out masterfully with pedal technique to burn and a great registration. Sadly, the organ chose the last listed piece to misbehave; it produced a pedal cipher on what I think was the 16′ Principal. I immediately forgot about the cipher and the piece and began to think of Phil Parkey and his crew who had earlier been introduced to the audience. They quickly rose to action to remedy this problem. I believe that it was not ultimately their problem, though, because turning the organ off and on fixed it. Isn’t that the electronic relay? (It happened again at the next day’s masterclass.) Anyway, I really felt bad for them. After this, Alan mounted the bench and began playing near the spot he had stopped. He finished what was the most difficult music of the evening with great excitement and flourish. The audience immediately rose with cheers and loud applause.
The encore, as I expected, was John Weaver’s little jazzy number combining “Sine Nomine” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.” It was a fun way to end the evening’s program … a student playing the teacher’s music. What a student, indeed! Alan is now teaching more at my alma mater, Westminster Choir College, since Ken Cowan moved to Rice University.
For more information on Alan Morrison, visit alanmorrison.us.
See the specification of Parkey Opus 14.
View full-resolution images of the organ: Facade, Console, Chancel
Watch videos of Alan Morrison on Youtube