Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Joyce Jones in Concert at Trinity Church, NYC 7/24/08

The reliably superb, annual summertime festival of organ concerts at Trinity Church always has a theme, and this year’s is “Organ Divas.” The artist who played today is perhaps the prototype. A legend in organ circles, Baylor University Professor Joyce Jones is something of a ham, a performer just as likely to play a supersonic Flight of the Bumblebee on the pedals as she is to keep the audience in stitches with a seemingly endless supply of puns, some of them pretty corny, delivered in a deadpan Texas accent. Self-effacing, down-home persona aside, Jones reaffirmed what an extraordinarily imaginative, sensitive and original a player she is.

Virtually every organist good enough to tour major cities has superior chops, and Jones’ are among the best. But what invariably impresses the most is how different her approach is, and how much fun she clearly has playing. Today “The Accidental Organist,” as she bills herself – a piano major in college, she hurt her hand and only turned to the organ as a way to practice to keep herself sharp until it healed – opened with Leo Sowerby’s Pageant. As the title implies, it’s a big, stately, optimistic piece that opens with the kind of pedal figure that Jones has made her trademark. She followed that with an idiosyncratic but absolutely brilliant version of the famous Bach Passaglia and Fugue in C Minor (BMV 582). Introducing the piece, she told the crowd that while a student, her playing had come to sound “like it was sprayed with Lysol disinfectant” due to overwork and perhaps overthinking. But this was anything but sterile. A lot of organists hurry through it to get to the big crescendos, but Jones took her time, making it a casual but deliberate stroll through the work’s swells and ebbs, using several different registrations to vary the tonal quality of particular sections she’d singled out. In Bach’s day, registrations were left pretty much up to the individual organist, meaning that Jones was fully within her rights to do this. And it was stunning, particularly when she balanced a fast pedal solo with screaming, upper-register chords, against which the pedal melody was only semi-audible.

She then played Marcel Dupre’s brief Fileuse, a striking contrast and showcase for speed with its somewhat hypnotic, circular upper-register motif, something akin to the Flight of the Bumblebee as the melody circles against an airy, repetitive arpeggio. Introducing the final number on the program, Liszt’s remarkably melodic, climactic Fantasie and Fugue on the hymn Ad Nos, ad Salutarem Undam, she explained how it was influenced by the composer’s student Julius Reubke (who went on to write the legendary, vengeful Sonata on the 94th Psalm) as well the Merrybeer opera The Prophet. Which makes sense: Liszt seems like someone who would be especially fond of bombast. Jones made the point that the work could be called the first real organ symphony, considering how long and segmented it is, and like the Bach she absolutely nailed it. Afterward, she rewarded the audience for their two standing ovations with a brief, percussive transcription of a Prokofiev piano toccata – a sort of organist’s revenge for all the piano and orchestral transcriptions of classic organ works – and then a classicized arrangement of The Church in the Wildwood. “If you didn’t hear this growing up, well then, you were deprived,” Jones deadpanned. No doubt she would have kept playing, and the audience would have stayed much longer, had this been possible.

July 24, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dr. Joanna Elliott Plays the Organ at St. Thomas Church, NYC 4/27/08

Yet another attempt on the part of Lucid Culture to encourage adventurous listeners to investigate the fascinating, emotionally rewarding subculture of pipe organ music and the world-class performers who come through New York to play it. Not for the faint of heart. Then again, nothing you’ll find here ever is.

Galveston, Texas organist Joanna Elliott is a highly respected talent in the fanatical organ music demimonde, a student of Marie-Claire Alain and Joyce Jones, also adept at the concert harp. Tonight was a riveting, spectacular performance, even more than one would expect from a musician with the subtle sense of touch that comes from playing the harp. She opened with the famous Bach Toccata and Fugue in F Major (BWV 540), which begins all happy and upbeat before the demons start to filter in during its second part, the fugue. Literally pulling out all the stops, she managed to get the newer organ here, the smaller of the two, to sing. There was a triumphant sway in her playing, imbuing the piece with special optimism while remaining true to Bach’s clockwork rhythm.

Switching to the big, beautiful main organ here, she pulled out all the stops again for Marcel Dupre’s Prelude and Fugue in B Major, Op. 7. Dupre is one of the great exponents of French romanticism: his Stations of the Cross is one of the standard works in the organ repertoire and quite the showstopper, as was the piece Elliott had selected for tonight. Ablaze with purpose, melodies spinning from the pedals, it’s a hard piece to play and Elliott’s interpretation was both passionate and seemingly effortless.

Next on the bill was a duo of Louis Vierne compositions, Clair de Lune and the Toccata from his 24 Fantasy Pieces. The first is all quiet, eerie ambience, atmospheric sheets of ominous sound: Vierne’s moon here is completely phantasmagorical. The Toccata, by contrast, is all fire and brimstone, yet imbued with the same macabre feel, and Elliott sprinted through it as if someone was chasing her. And the unusual pace actually enhanced Vierne’s dark ambience, making it an apt counterpart to what had just preceded it. She closed with long-tenured Notre Dame organist Maurice Durufle’s famous Chorale on the theme of the hymn Veni Creator (Op. 4), another big warhorse, a suite whose brief, opening parts foreshadow absolutely nothing of the fireworks to come. Elliott set them off with unabashed joy, all the way through to the wall-rattling crescendo at the end.

April 27, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment