Organ music has the connotation of being confined to churches, but that’s not what’s happening Friday night at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts.
The BCPA is hosting "Pipe Dreams," featuring German soloist Felix Hell on the organ and combining Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 “Organ,” Poulenc’s Organ Concerto and Bach and Elgar’s Fantasia and Fugue.
Illinois Symphony Orchestra Music Director Ken Lam said on GLT’s Sound Ideas the Saint-Saëns organ symphony and Poulenc’s Organ Concerto often go together on recordings because they make a good pairing.
“They’re both French. I think that’s an attractive pairing. And of course, the Saint-Saëns organ symphony is not quite enough to fill a CD,” Lam said.
Lam said the symphony’s organ usage is one of its most unique features.
“The organ is part of the orchestra. It has a prominent part, but it plays very subtly in the first part, and then it transforms itself in the second movement,” Lam said. “I find the Saint-Saëns organ symphony easier to understand as a whole because it’s very unified and original.”
As for Poulenc’s work, Lam said the 20th century composer is probably the most well-known among French organ concertos, and it is the way he joins the two sides of his personality that make his organ concerto stand out.
“There’s a secular side of Poulenc, where he writes things that are very joyful, sometimes a little tongue in cheek, but he has a serious side, too. He’s a very devout, religious person. And the incredible thing about this organ concerto is that somehow, Poulenc married his two sides. And you hear it at the same time, which is extraordinary,” Lam said.
Lam called 32-year-old Hell, who will be behind the organ, a bit of a child prodigy.
“He’s been doing this for a very long time,” Lam said.
Hell won’t be using BCPA’s organ, however. He’ll be using an organ that an Illinois company built for him to use on tour. Lam said the touring organ is a good substitution for the original.
“It’s electronic, but they’re pretty good with technology these days. It feels a little different. They even imitate the sound of the blower. They do a good job,” Lam said.
Lam added that organ music, electronic or not, is still alive in a compositional sense today.
“We call it the king of instruments, or at least the organists would call it the king of instruments. There’s nothing quite like playing the organ to its full range of possibilities, especially when you’re playing in a big church. It’s overwhelming,” Lam said.
The concert will begin at 7:30 p.m., with concert comments beginning a little earlier at 6:45 p.m.
People like you value experienced, knowledgeable and award-winning journalism that covers meaningful stories in Bloomington-Normal. To support more stories and interviews like this one, please consider making a contribution.