Magazine article The American Organist

Lawrence-by-the-Seine

Magazine article The American Organist

Lawrence-by-the-Seine

Article excerpt

SINCE I've never been an organ teacher, I seldom attend the biennial AGO National Conference on Organ Pedagogy, valuable as it is for educators. But when I saw the program for the 17 th edition of this gathering, held at the University of Kansas in mid-October, I had to sign up. Sure enough, from the first masterclass in Bales Organ Recital Hall, those of us in attendance knew we weren't in Kansas anymore. I soon began to believe that the muddy Missouri River flowing beneath my hotel-room window had been transformed into the Seine.

Many of us have long recognized that James Higdon and Michael Bauer have put together an outstanding organ department there in the charming college town of Lawrence, just outside Kansas City. I had previously heard the Hellmuth Wolff organ in this hall, which was built specifically for the instrument in the mid-1990s. It's undoubtedly one of the finest pipe organs in the United States, especially for French repertoire. That was a major reason why this conference-planned by Higdon, Bauer, and their department along with the AGO Committee on Professional Education-was such a triumph. Surely the late Polly Bales, the program dedicatee, would have been overwhelmed to hear all three titulaires of Notre-Dame Cathedral and both major organ professors at the Paris Conservatory performing in the building she and her husband Dane had made possible with their donation.

Titled "Organ and Improvisation Study in the French Conservatory System," the conference filled that bill, but its import went well beyond the history of French organ teaching to what it means to play the organ in the 21st century. Even in Paris, it would have been an almost impossible task for a single presenter to assemble such a brilliant roster of recitalists: Vincent Dubois, Olivier Latry, and Philippe Lefebvre, the three Notre-Dame organists; Michel Bouvard, the Conservatory professor along with Latry; and the young Korean artist Shin-Young Lee, a Conservatory product and now a world-traveling performer. All five gave solo recitals on the Wolff organ, and (it almost goes without saying) received unanimous standing ovations. Dubois and Latry closed their recitals with improvisations on submitted themes, and Lefebvre performed a remarkable program that was entirely improvised, consisting of a French Classic suite, a depiction of Vespers at NotreDame, a three-part symphony, and a free treatment of themes based on the names "Higdon" and "Bauer"-with "The StarSpangled Banner" as an encore!

The most spectacular concert, however, involved all five organists in a unique organ Mass. Bauer told me that he and Latry had worked for about a year on the concept of alternating improvisations with François Couperin's Messe pour les Paroisses. …

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