John Zorn Evokes Hell and Heaven at the Organ at Columbia
John Zorn‘s improvisation on the magnificent vintage Aeolian-Skinner organ at St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University last night was one of the most sonically delicious concerts in New York in recent memory. It was also exhilarating, assaultive, witty, carefully considered and raptly contemplative, in roughly chronological order. Zorn isn’t known as an organist, but the instrument was his first love. This concert was originally scheduled for last year, but the hurricane put an end to that idea, and with all the celebrations of Zorn’s sixtieth birthday going on throughout 2013, this was likely the earliest it could be rescheduled. Fans of the irascible eclecticist composer who might be kicking themselves that they missed this concert have even rarer opportunity to see Zorn play the 1830 Appleton organ in the gallery of the musical instruments section at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this Saturday, Sept 28 at around 7:30 PM. That performance caps off a daylong celebration of Zorn’s music which begins with his new trumpet fanfare when the museum opens and features a slate of familiar Zorn bandmates from over the years playing works from throughout Zorn’s career in various parts of the museum; all these are free with museum admission.
This improvisation began with an ominous sustained motif. Then the fireworks started, Zorn literally pulling out all the stops. It seemed as if he was using his entire forearm to hold down most of the keys in the upper midrange, creating a vicious, continuous blast punctuated by explosions from the low pedals. Zorn nimbly switched between registers, blending tones with an endlessly alternating series of brass and woodwind timbres. Finally the vortex cleared, Zorn introducing a single minor chord, but then the descent into the maelstrom continued. He took a pause, then built a tone poem with even more meticulously shifting timbres, something akin to Messiaen in dub. Zorn followed with a triptych of sorts based on simple, pedaled chords embellished with an even greater delicacy before a sudden and viscerally shocking return to the fire and brimstone. Yet, when it seemed that he was going to take the concert out on a screaming, abrasive note, he took another pause, then contrasted extreme low and high frequencies and methodically built a hypnotic, meditative ambience. And suddenly it was over. The audience, stunned, took their time rising for a standing ovation: everybody wanted an encore, but Zorn had clearly said everything he wanted to. The organ at the Met isn’t as powerful as this one, but the acoustics there are rich with natural reverb, a very good omen for Saturday’s performance.
There’s also a three-night program of Zorn works at Columbia’s Miller Theatre, Sept 25-27. The first features orchestral works, the second chamber works; the final night includes his improvisationally-based Game Pieces.
No comments yet.