Madison Wisconsin Symphony 20 Sep 2014

Another pretty decent performance. We found out about this one sort of at the last minute and as it happened we were southwest of Madison in Amana IA for the New Horizons Owners Group rally the week before and heading over to Cuyahoga National Park near Cleveland the following week we just left Amana the morning after the rally instead of 2 days later and spent the weekend in Rockville OH about 200 miles east of Amana. From there it was a 70 mile trip each way up to Madison for the concert. We ate dinner at the same Irish Pub we visited a couple of weeks before when we were staying in Madison then walked over to the concert hall.

The program opened with Also Sprach Zarathustra from Strauss. The first 22 measures of this piece are famous as they were used by Stanley Kubrick in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. The rest of the piece is a nice tone poem but nowhere near as exciting as the opening is. Connie doesn’t like it much but Neil does. Next up was the premiere of the Martin Concerto for Seven Winds…which was melodic at least in comparison to many contemporary pieces. It didn’t really do anything for either of us though.

After that and intermission it was on to the Saint Saëns…which was pretty magnificent even though the organist flubbed a note towards the end during the series of descending pedal notes right before the climatic fanfare. The organ also didn’t have quite as much low end power as one would have assumed  from looking at the pipes in the organ loft…or maybe it was just voiced that way for this performance. In any event…a decent time was had by all and we headed home.

On the way home about midnight pretty close to our campground for the weekend we witnessed a single car accident…a guy in a pickup under the influence of booze, drugs, or both blew a stop sign…almost hit the car in front of us…and nosedived into a drainage ditch and then up into somebody’s yard. We stopped and called 911 to report it…and the operator was unhappy that we chose not to approach the car initially as who knew what the deal was. We finally decided it was safe enough and checked it out along with the owners of the yard the truck was in. The cops showed up but the guy had booked it by then…so in came the K9 to go and find him. We decided to not hang around and left our name and contact into with the officer in charge at the scene. We never heard back from them…so either they caught him and he was drunk or something. It was a bit of excitement for our evening at least.

Here’s a shot of the organ…you can see from the lot size that we were a little underwhelmed by the organ’s power.

MadisonSymphOrchestra small

That’s our last performance for this season as far as we know…Connie’s searching for the winter months didn’t turn up anything we will go to except maybe one up in Jacksonville in the late winter.


Philadelphia Symphony 12 April

Our last performance of the year…and easily the best of the year…not to mention one of the best all time. This was a return to the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia with the PSO…they have a really great pipe organ in the hall and this time the organist and conductor decided to let ‘er rip in the Finale with bone shaking success.

Combine that with a nice dinner at the Fado’s Irish Pub nearby and it was quite a successful outing.

Kimmel Center Philadelphia

Charleston Symphony 3 Apr 2014

We had another pretty good performance of the symphony in Charleston this week…we were amazed at how much the orchestra had improved since our time with season tickets when we were here back in the late 70s. 

The program included the Les Preludes by Franz Liszt…we had never heard this particular piece before but it was a pretty nitty little 18 or 19 minute piece…nice melodies and harmonies throughout and we were thoroughly pleased by it.

Next up was the Piano Concerto in A Minor by Edvard Grieg. The soloist was Marina Lomazov…a Ukranian American pianist who is on the faculty at the University of South Carolina. We thought she was pretty daring in her concert dress; bare shoulders and skinny little spaghetti straps on her slinky black gown…a pretty petite woman but she had some serious arm muscles on display…must be all of those hours tickling the ivories I guess. Anyway…she was pretty spectacular as well and both she and the orchestra performed an excellent rendition of this particular piece.

We had a nice glass of Malbec in the lobby during intermission and then heard the symphony. The orchestra was pretty good in this piece as well as was the organ soloist. The only drawback was the lack of upper register voicing of the organ. It was an electronic organ but demonstrated during the low notes of the second movement that it had plenty of power and while not quite as impressive as a pipe organ would be with the chest rattling bass it was outstanding for an electronic. Getting on into the finale…we both thought that there was plenty of power displayed by the instrument against the massed orchestra sections…but the voicing was skewed towards the bass/midrange with very little of the high brassy notes one typically hears. Since the organ clearly had plenty of power…err, let me digress for a moment for those who may not be as familiar with the technical terms about an organ.

Organ are categorized first by pipes, then by ranks and stops…the numbers refer to pipe organs but electronic models follow the same nomenclature even though all the sound is produced electronically. Pipes refers to the total number of pipes that make up the organ…each pipe has essentially a reed section at the bottom that air blows across to make the sound and then a tall piece of pipe that determines the pitch or note of the sound. Pipes come in various lengths that make the same note and the various pipes are made of either metal or wood and are tuned to produce a sound similar to a particular instrument. Ranks refers to the number of rows of pipes stops to the number of built in combinations of various pipes to produce a note that sounds like a particular instrument in the orchestra.

The console has voice selections on it…usually 100 or mote in total and they have names like Flute 4, Flute 8, Flute 16…Trumpet 8 and 16, etc. Selecting a particular voice and hitting a single key produces a tone that sounds (vaguely at least) like the indicated instrument at whatever pitch was selected by the particular key you press on the keyboard. Each key then actually causes little air valves at the bottom of the pipes to open and admit air to the pipe producing sound. A key on the keyboard may activate anywhere from 1 to probably 20 individual pipes depending on which voice is selected. The numbers following the voice are in feet…it doesn’t refer as one would expect to the length of the pipe but just the relative length between say Flute 4 and Flute 8.

The key difference in listening to say Flute 4 and 8 when a particular key is pressed is somewhat akin to listening to the radio and then twisting the Treble/Bass knobs back and forth. As one makes less bass and/or more treble the tone shits more toward soprano or bass sounding while remaining at the same pitch. Alternatively you could think of it as just changing the tonality of the note to make it brighter or darker. Pressing a chord on the keyboard then activates pipe sets that produce each pitch in the chord.

As an aside; there is also one or more pedals that look like car gas pedals down by the feet in addition to both the foot pedals that activate notes in the bass range as well as a whole bunch of additional voice and combination switches since the console usually runs out of place to put the little toggle switches you see on the face of an organ console above the keyboards. There are usually multiple keyboards and each can be set individually to a different voicing so that the organist can play a series of notes that are related but sound completely different.

Finally; the combination switches let you specify certain sets of the voice switches and then store them as sets for either the foot pedals or any of the keyboards. That way the organist can with a single press of a combination switch with either hand or foot change the voicing of any of the keyboards or pedals. Doing this individually might require that dozens of voice switches be flipped back and forth…the combination switches serve to essentially flip dozens of them at once.

Anyway, so much for momentary digression…where was I?

Oh yeah, the voicing on the organ. This is usually set by the organist to his taste or perhaps to the taste of the particular conductor…or even to better match the performance of a particular organ in a particular concert hall to either the size of the orchestra or even the expected number of people in the audience as this changes the acoustic performance of the hall to some extent. All of the voicing decisions are worked out ahead of time. For whatever reason…this particular performance was voiced fairly low in the organ’s registers…we have no idea why but assume it was deliberate choice by either the organist or the conductor.

Long story short…the organ didn’t sound like it typically sounds for the symphony but it wasn’t bad…just slightly different. We prefer the organ to have a bit more high register as to our minds it sounds better balanced. This particular voicing sounded like somebody fiddled with the bass and treble knobs and killed all the high notes.

Still a pretty good performance though…I didn’t have a photo since Neil forgot to take one…but there weren’t any organ pipes to see anyway and the rest of it pretty much looked like a concert hall.

Travel to Manassas VA

Another 260 mile travel day today. Traffic on I-95 and route 234 from Quantico over to Manassas was horrible. We did see this jerk in a Mustang down in NC who floored it to be a not-nice driver and zoom past two cars on the ramp. Right as he cut them off he blew his engine from over revving it. Serves the jerk right.
Anyhoo, we are at Bull Run Regional Park in Centerville Va site 124. Got utilities setup and will do the rest mañana. Dinner was leftover mashed taters and beef tips from the Texas Roadhouse the other night. Pretty yummy. Here’s a shot of our site, did this whole blog post from my iPhone as there is no wifi in this campground and Neil was too tired to fix the internet until tomorrow.


Chicago Symphony 8 Mar 2014

Our first performance for 2014 came in March when we headed off from our winter RVing home in North Fort Myers FL to Chicago for the weekend…talk about temperature extremes…we had them. Friday morning we headed off about 0830 for our 1100 flight to Chicago. Got parked and checked in just fine and said a temporary goodbye to the 75 degree weather here in Fort Myers…when we landed in Chicago it was overcast, show showers, and in the low 30’s. Nonetheless…we caught the Blue Line train from O’Hare and an hour or so later arrived at the Congress Plaza Hotel for two nights. The Congress has the advantage that it’s close to Symphony Hall. The room itself was decently large…almost as much footage as our house in fact…but the amenities left something to be desired. It’s pretty expensive since it’s a downtown hotel…and has all the “old building” drawbacks that downtown “historic” hotels usually have. Still, the bed was decent and it was close to what we needed to get to so we could just walk.

Friday evening we headed out about 1700 for dinner. We had eaten an an Irish Pub named Millers last time we were here but decided instead on the 1 block closer to our hotel Exchequer Pub and Restaurant due to the cold north wind…by this time it was dark, damp, 25 and windy so we weren’t interested in walking any farther than we had to. Grabbed a seat at the bar and had a couple pints of Exchequer Amber Ale from the Great Lakes Brewing Company.

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Really, really good stuff. We got to talking with the guy sitting to our right (Steve Paulin) and turns out he is the Assistant Box Office Manager for the Chicago Symphony. After we told our story of coming in just for the Saint Saëns Organ Symphony…he asked to see our tickets. We showed them to him and he said…”You’re nice people and I was going to upgrade your tickets for you…but you already have just about the best seats in the house.”. He gave us his contact info and encouraged us to contact him if we came into town again and he would make sure we got good seats. He headed back to the office about 1845 or so since he had an evening performance (it was just a block away) and we had dinner. In honor of the late Roger Ebert who said that the Chicago Pizza here was the best in town we had a Deep Dish Mushroom pie…it was about an inch thick with half of that being melted cheese. We only got a 10 inch pie and despite having nothing since lunch except a small order of Jalapeño poppers with the first pint were only able to finish about three quarters of the pizza. Too bad…it was really good. Steve also had been to Ireland and recommended that we check out Kilbeggen Irish Whiskey while we were there…the oldest distillery in the country and he said it’s better than Jameson. 

After that we let ourselves be blown downwind back to the hotel where we crashed and burned pretty early after a long travel day.

Saturday dawned with 20 degrees and snow showers. We ran up the street to Duncan Donuts for breakfast then just hung around the hotel all day as it was too cold, dreary, and windy to do anything else. After some discussion on whether to find a fancy place for dinner or not…we elected to hit the Exchequer again. We headed up there about 1630 and had more Exchequer Amber and dinner…fish and chips for Connie and a pretty decent cheeseburger for Neil. We capped it off with another beer for Connie and a Jameson Irish Whiskey for Neil…they gave us a really nice pour, probably two and a half normal shots. We sipped on that until it was time to head over for the concert.

We knew this concert would be good back when we saw the lineup…the conductor was Charles Dutoit who did a really famous and excellent recording of the Saint Saëns with the Montreal Symphonie and the soloist was Paul Jacobs. Paul is this 28 or 29 year old kid who is far and away the best organist we have ever heard. The concert started off with a 30 minute organ recital by Paul starting at 1900…what an amazing talent. The only piece we had heard before was the Widor Toccata…this is the most famous piece of French Organ Music and all of you have heard it even though you may not know the name. Here’s a link to a youtube recording of it.

Following the recital we had the concert proper. There was an opening piece named La Peri by Dukas which is supposed to be a fanfare and allegro sort of thing…the fanfare part was pretty good but the rest of it didn’t really do anything for us. It wasn’t bad…just seemed to go on too long more than anything. Following that we had to pay for the Saint Saëns to come…the Poir sortie au jour (Concerto for Flute and Orchestra) by Guillaume Connesson. As can be expected from most pieces whose year of composition is anytime past about 1950 or so…it was…well, not quite awful to the level of the infamous world premier of Ode to the Garbage Can by the Fairfax Symphony’s Composer in Residence did many years ago. At least it was melodic and didn’t sound like fingernails scratching down the chalkboard mixed with cat wails from the rocking chair. It did however…go on and on and on…but thankfully it eventually ended and we escaped to the lobby for intermission.

Returning to the concert hall we grabbed a picture of the stage and organ pipes in the background from our seats…we truly did have about the best seats we could have had, almost in the center of the lower balcony about 8 rows back.

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Tonight’s performance shows you how much impact a world class conductor and soloist can have on the performance of a piece. We’ve heard the Chicago Symphony do the Saint Saëns before and while it was good it wasn’t spectacular. Mr. Dutoit believes in letting the organ speak loudly (it is known as the Organ Symphony after all) and both the orchestra and Mr. Jacobs rose to the occasion. We detected nary a poorly hit note from the entire orchestra…even in some of the almost silent parts where there are solo french horn and flute entrances that are bobbled a bit most of the time. All of those precisely timed entrances were spot on.

We thought the folks up in the rows behind the orchestra and below the pipes would jump in fright at the beginning of the Finale with the loud C-Major chord from the organ but they just sat there…maybe being below the pipes they were shielded from the sound barrage.

In any event the piece continued to the end with an outstanding performance…this one clearly jumped into the top 3 of all the performances we have witnessed and we really noticed how much better the Chicago Symphony was than the last time.

We headed back to our hotel (fortunately it was again downwind as it was really cold by this time) and rested up for our early wakeup…in addition to needing to get to the airport for an 1100 flight we had to contend with the Spring Forward of Daylight Savings Time. We got to the airport and were waiting in line for our flight. When Connie made our reservations we had a non stop on the way up but ended up with a connection through Cleveland and a 2.5 hour layover; the direct return flight was 100 bucks each more expensive and only got here an hour or so faster so we passed on it. Anyway; the nice lady at United called us out of the boarding line and asked us…”Why are you going to Fort Myers via Cleveland?”. We explained about the cheaper fare…her response was that this flight was overbooked, she had 12 people on standby for one of those 100 or seat commuter jets…and how would we like to get upgraded to better seats on the direct flight. We would have to sit around O’Hare another 90 minutes or so but would get into Fort Myers an hour and 10 minutes earlier than originally scheduled. We thought about this for maybe 2 nanoseconds before agreeing. she got us exit row seats for more space and since nobody would likely buy a single middle seat upgrade gave us the aisle and window seats…we got on our plane later and had the row to ourselves for the flight. 

We grabbed a tube steak (hotdog) from a stand in the airport (including neon green pickle relish on Connie’s…Neil thought it almost looked radioactive green, got our later flight and arrived back in sunny and warm southwest Florida shortly after 1700. Grabbed a package of frozen Ahi Tuna steaks from Publix on the way home and had seared tuna, wasabi and rice for dinner along with a couple of wine coolers.

Next performance is in April in Philadelphia…CYAs then.

2013 Performances

Continuing on into 2013. Since we’re now caught up with the past performances; this post will be periodically updated as we continue our travels and listens.

Our first performance for this year was in Plano TX on April 27. The Plano Symphony performed at St. Andrews United Methodist Church. The symphony was pretty good for a community orchestra and the organ was large, excellently played, and really fit the acoustics of the church very well. The conductor kept the organ and orchestra well balanced throughout the piece and then let the organ shine in the Finale.


Next up…the Edmonton Symphony on June 1.

We arrived in Edmonton earlier in the week and spent 3 days hiking, touristing, and trying to stay dry since it rained almost every day we were here. Finally; Saturday evening came and we headed off to the Winspear Centre for the concert. Our first stop was the Sherlock Holmes Pub for dinner; we had a couple of pints and some pub food that was pretty tasty…then walked over to the concert hall. The program included a Fanfare and Chorale that was written 10 years ago by a local composer for the dedication of the organ, 3 choral pieces that Connie really enjoyed, and the Saint Saëns. The organ was very impressive looking and sounding and the organist let it rip in the finale of the symphony. The only negative aspect of the performance was that the conductor sort of rushed the last sections of the finale; it was almost like he was in a hurry to get to the end and didn’t really let the majesty of the music come through with a beat that was too quick in our opinion. Still an excellent performance over all though.


Next up, Seattle the end of June.

The performance by the SeattleSymphony was pretty good…the playing was excellent and the accompanying Wagner pieces were good as well. The only drawback was that the organ had insufficient high and mid range output so that it sounded like the treble on your radio had been turned way down. We couldn’t decide if it was deliberately tuned that way or whether the designer failed to adequately take the concert hall acoustics into account and under designed it. Here’s a shot of the stage and organ.

Seattle Symphony Orchestra2

2011 to 2012 Performances

Continuing into 2011 and 2012 with our Organ Quest performances.

April 28 2100 found us in Toronto, Canada for another performance. We drove up from Fairfax and reconfirmed that the Canadian border guards are the rudest people in the entire world. Protecting your borders is one thing…insulting your visitors is another. It isn’t that hard to be professional and guard the borders but still be nice to visitors since their first impression of Canada is the border guards. It took us almost 3 hours to get across the border; apparently the fact that we would drive from DC to Toronto for a concert was beyond their feeble minds. The guy (and girl) were even ruder than the one we ran into back at the border crossing into Alberta months earlier on the way to Calgary.

Anyway; we can’t remember much about the concert so it must have been at least decent. We ate dinner and had bison steaks at a place in the Market around the corner from the venue and then had to figure out the trolley system (Connie’s feet hurt from the heels; it turned out she had a bunion she needed removed…one she recovered from the surgery her ability to walk around in heels improved tremendously.

US border guards on then other hand…are much more welcoming and friendly. They do their job but still go out of their way to give a good first impression to visitors. After the concert we had a hike at a nature park in Toronto then drove through Niagra Falls on the way home. Neither of us could really see the attraction…we’ve seen much better waterfalls out west and the entire town on both sides of the border is one giant Tourist Trap.


Our next foray was to Ocean Grove, NJ on August 4, 2011…coincidentally this was the weekend after we retired from full time employment. Ocean Grove is a really strange town…it was founded in 1890 or so by a religious organization and the entire city still revolves around the church. Nothing wrong with that of course…it just seemed different to us. The venue for the concert is actually the main church in town and is this huge barn like structure with open sides…it seems much more like an open air concert venue than a church. However, the organ is really impressive and is easily the best we’ve heard since Gray Chapel in Ohio back in 2005. The program also included the Handel Concerto for Organ and Orchestra which is rarely heard…as well as the Beethoven Piano Concerto #5 known as the Emperor Concerto. Quite a nice evening overall; we had a nice fish dinner on the waterfront before the concert. While we were in the area we drove through Summerville, NJ which is where Connie grew up. Her house is still there; still the same colors, and still has the apple trees in the yard.


Our trip to Youngstown, OH for a concert on September 18, 2011 turned out to be  quite an adventure. First…the concert was actually pretty good; it was at the Stambaugh Auditorium which was built in 1026 with a wonderful E.M. Skinner organ which had fallen into disrepair over the years. It just recently completed a restoration and is now a 67 sot 3905 pipe instrument…this was the rededication concert for the instrument. The program included two other solo organ pieces in addition to the symphony…as well as the Poulenc Concerto for Organ, Timpani and Strings. David Higgs was the soloist…this was one of those rare performances when the conductor didn’t hold the organist back and the organ volume was perfectly matched to the orchestra playing.


The bad news was after the concert. Having endured the Pennsylvania Turnpike on the way over to Youngstown and knowing how bad it is in the dark we decided to drive back on a state highway (PA-228) instead of taking the Turnpike again. After a quick stop at the Golden Arches for dinner we headed home and were nearing Johnstown when a deer ran out in front of us. It completely broke the front end of our Mazda…fortunately the hood peeled up and tossed him over the car instead of into the windshield.


We never saw him until he landed right in front of the right headlight about 3 feet in front of us at 55 mph. Crunch!!

Fortunately neither of us was hurt so we peeled the hood back down and limped another mile or so to the first gas station we saw. We called our insurance company (USAA, great company to do business with) and within about 3 hours despite it being Sunday evening we had a tow truck to Johnstown, a hotel reservation, and a rental car reservation to get home with. Three weeks and $6200 later the car was almost back to normal…we thought it was completely fixed but found out in August 2012 that they repair place had left some sealing rings out of the firewall which resulted in another repair (covered by the original repair place) to fix the main computer and windshield again. We had to make another trip back to Johnstown to pick up the repaired Mazda but that wasn’t too bad. We keep a real careful eye out for the deer’s brethren whenever it’s deer o’clock now.

In January 2012 we took a trip to Junction City, Kansas to order our New Horizons RV (we’ve since retired to the full time RV lifestyle and sold our home in Fairfax). We were actually on the way to Los Angeles again but stopped by Kansas to do the factory tour and decide what we wanted to buy. After the stop we continued on to Los Angeles where we heard the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Walt Disney Auditorium on January 7, 2012.


This is far and away the best performance we have ever been to. The orchestra missed not a single note, the organ was powerful, and the orchestra and organ were perfectly balanced. The concert included the Dvorák Hussite Overture and the Liszt Piano Concerto #2 in A Major with Jean-Yves Thibaudet as the soloist.

However; after this performance we decided to stop trying to rank the various performances unless they are really spectacular or really bad…there have just been too many to reasonably remember. Even with no formal ranking system though; this is very likely the best overall performance we have heard.

As part of this trip (and while in Kansas) we ate at a BBQ place in Kansas City named Oklahoma Joe’s. This is on Anthony Bourdain’s list of 13 places to eat before you die…and it was definitely outstanding. I’m not ready to call it the best BBQ ever…but it’s right up there. We also drove over to Desert Hot Springs, CA (near Palm Springs) while we were in southern California and checked out some potential parking spots for our new RV lifestyle. We ate at a couple of place recommended from Guy Fierei’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives…Auntie Em’s in downtown LA was average at best (the sandwiches were…Californian let me call it) and also at Shulzles Bread Pudding in Venice Beach, CA. The bred pudding was really, really good…although it was more pudding like than the bread like consistency that Southeners are used to cooking. Despite the different texture though…our cups emptied rapidly. 

On March 11, 2012 we headed up for a quick overnight trip to Hartford, CT for a performance of the University of Hartford Symphony Orchestra of the Hartt School in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph. The organ was a pretty decent instrument but the soloist hit several clearly incorrect notes at the beginning of the finale…and the orchestra was average (it was a college ensemble instead of professional) so the performance was average. The cathedral suffered from the same over live characteristic that the Washington National Cathedral suffers from and hence there were organ/orchestra synchronization issues.


On March 18, 2012 we attended what is clearly our worst performance to date. The Ambler Symphony Orchestra was on tap and it turns out this is an amateur community orchestra. Nothing wrong with that…it’s just that they should have stuck to pieces they were capable of playing instead of over-reaching. On the other hand; we did have a nice drive on some country roads and a great lunch at (you guessed it) and Irish Pub in Dublin, PA.

April 22, 2012. Undeterred by our previous (2x) bad impressions of Canadian border guards we headed off again to Halifax, Nova Scotia for the Halifax Symphony performance of the symphony. The border Gestapo were their typical unfriendly selves…they noticed our South Dakota tags on the car (we changed residency for our new RV lifestyle), heard we had driven up from the DC area, heard we were there for a concert…and the rubber hose routine was on. Four hours later we made it into their country after getting the car practically disassembled first.

On the way up we wandered through Maine and had some lobsta’, followed by a genuine Dark and Stormy at the restaurant in Halifax. The concert itself was pretty good…the Halifax Symphony was way better than we expected it to be and they really deserved a better organ than the electronic one that was installed in the hall. We would have actually probably skipped this one since we were trying to finish up getting our home in Fairfax ready to put on the market except we had already bought the tickets and didn’t want to just through 200 bucks away.

In June 2012 we headed off to Junction City, Kansas to pick up our new New Horizons RV. We combined this with a previously scheduled concert in Kansas City on Jun 16. Once again; a really decent concert but nothing really overly memorable. As with the previous one in Halifax; we would have likely cancelled except we already had the tickets and had to be in Junction City anyway.


After picking up our RV in June 2012 we headed back to Fairfax, finished up our home sale closing and hit the road rule time in our RV on July 1, 2012. Our first destination was to the Hudson River Valley in central New York state for a concert at Bard College in Tivoli, NY on August 11; unfortunately we forgot to take pictures in the auditorium…we have a lousy picture of the part of the orchestra but not of the organ and it’s too crummy to post. We took a month and a week to wander from Fairfax through PA and NJ to NY then spent two weeks parked in Elizaville, NY near Tivoli. Did some kayaking and hiking in addition to attending the concert and also went to the Culinary Institute of America for lunch one day. We are still figuring out how to combine the Organ Quest with our RV lifestyle; at this point our somewhat fluid plans are to work concert stops into our overall travel plans and to only fly to those that might be in cold areas or the other side of the country from where we are parked.

2008 to 2010 Performances

Moving on into 2008; we drove down to Wilmington, NC for a performance by the WIlmington Symphony Orchestra on March 15. The concert was at the First Presbyterian CHurch with an E. M. Skinner organ. We spent the weekend at a nice little hotel right on the river, attended the Saint Paddy’s Day Festival across the street from the hotel in the afternoon, had a nice dinner at an Irish Pub then went to the concert on Saturday evening. We drove back home to Fairfax on Sunday after stopping by Fairfax to visit Bryan and Jen (son and daughter in law) on the way home.

June 14, 2008 had us on another weekend trip to Pittsburgh to hear the Pittsburgh, Symphony Orchestra at Heinz Hall. The orchestra was pretty good but the electronic organ in the hall just doesn’t have any bass depth to it and pretty much got drowned out by the orchestra. We had a nice pre-concert dinner at an Italian restaurant in downtown then drove back home on Sunday morning after Mass.

Our first trip to Los Angeles was on September 20, 2008 at the Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa. The concert was the dedication of a brand new C.B. Fisk 4322 pipe organ named the William J. Gillespie Concert Organ (he’s the guy that donated the money for it). The concert included the Marcel Dupre Prelude and Fugue in B Major, Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor and the world premiere of Christopher Theofanidis Rex Tremendae Majestatis in addition to the symphony. Paul Jacobs was the organ soloist…he’s the youngest soloist we have seen and easily the best player as well. After the concert we spent a week touring around the National Parks in southern California (Joshua Tree, Death Valley, Kings Canyon and Sequoia) before heading home.


Our next trip on January 10, 2009 we almost cancelled because of a forecast snow storm for the East coast; but eventually decided to risk it since the worst hit areas looked to be well north of New York City and we were only going up to Brunswick, New Jersey. Unfortunately the performance was one of those that pretty much was a bust as the organ suffered a casualty about halfway through the finale and lost about 2/3 of it’s volume and most of the power. We got out of the concert and it was snowing lightly so we stopped by another Irish Pub named Old Man Rafferty’s for some chocolate mousse cake and Jameson then walked back over to our hotel. We ended up getting only an inch or so of snow and were completely out of the snowy roads within about an hour of heading home the next morning.

Feb 16, 2009 saw a return trip to the Strathmore Music Center in Rockville, MD…although this time it was the Baltimore Philharmonic with Marin Alsop instead of the National Philharmonic. We ate dinner in the concert hall cafe after meeting up there (Connie took the metro from her new office near Union Station in DC and I drove up from Herndon where I had recently started working).

April 18, 2009 had us on a trip to Dallas, TX for a performance by the Dallas Symphony at Meyerson Hall. The program included the Guilmant Symphony for Orchestra #1 in addition to the Saint-Saëns…although both are called symphonies there is a key difference in how the organ participates. In the Saint-Saëns the organ is mostly just a member of the orchestra rather than being considered as a soloist while the Guilmant is really more like an Organ Concerto where the organist gets to strut their stuff. The soloist was Mary Preston and she almost needed a seat belt to keep on the bench during the cadenza…the cadenza of a concerto is where the soloist gets to improvise and do their best tricks. In this case, Ms. Preston used almost solely the pedal section of the organ and Fred Astaire would have been impressed with her footwork. The trip also included a stop by Cattleman’s in Forth Worth for a great steak before we headed home.


The following weekend we made a long driving trip to Cincinnati, OH for a performance on April 25, 2009. We ended up on a lot of back roads on the way over due to GPS issues (we told it to avoid highways and it decided that meant no four lane roads or anything remotely resembling a highway)…and we spent a lot of time at 30 miles an hour going from holler to holler as they call them in West Virginia. Again, an electric organ but pretty decent for an electric. We found out that you should not order Italian food in West Virginia; no flavor at all.


On Mothers Day May 10, 2009 we had a repeat performance at the National Cathedral in Washington DC which also included the Berlioz Te Deum. We had much better seats this time sitting in front of and slightly to the right side of the orchestra…but again the acoustics and reverberation of the building resulted in an out of sync orchestra and organ. We decided to skip any future performances at this venue.


September 24, 2009 found us again in Pennsylvania although this time it was Philadelphia for the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra and Charles Dutoit. The program again included the Berlioz Te Deum as well as the Berlioz Resurrexit. We ate at an Italian cafe which turned out to be a bust…I offered Connie a chance to eat at Ted’s Montana Grill and she passed it up not realizing it was owned by Ted Turner and serves bison grown on his ranch in Montana.


On October 10, 2009 we tried Chicago again and this time made it out for the Chicago Symphony. The concert included the Bruch Violin Concerto #1 with Joshua Bell as the soloist…he plays a pretty mean fiddle. We wandered around Grant Park during the day and spent some time at Miller’s (you guessed it, another Irish Pub) talking to folks in town for the Chicago Marathon which was being run the next morning. Another outstanding performance.


In February 2010 we set off on a two week jaunt to visit Nashville, TN and Jacksonville, FL for a pair of concerts and we also spent some time in Savannah, GA and Saint Augustine, FL. In Nashville we ate at a spectacular Italian place named Sola Mio about 3 blocks from the concert hall. The concert itself was pretty decent but then we had an 8 block walk uphill (with Connie in heels) in about 15 degree weather with the wind blowing to get back to the hotel. This time we just sat in the hotel bar in front of the fireplace with Jameson’s Irish Whiskey instead of finding a pub to drink Guinness. We found out in August 2010 that as a result of the spring floods in Nashville that year that the organ console had been stored in the basement which was filled with 12 feet of water…it got shipped back to the manufacturer for refurbishment but the organ will be out of commission for two years while they rebuild the console.


Following the concert in Nashville we spent a week or so meandering through Charleston, Savannah, and Saint Augustine before ending up in Jacksonville for the second concert…which included a 6215 pipe Casavant organ that was originally in a Baptist church in Syracuse, NY before being sold to the Jacksonville Symphony in 1996. It was shipped to Missouri for a two year restoration and then reinstalled in the concert hall. The soloist was a 23 year old kid from Baltimore who had already performed over 800 concerts…amazing for someone that young.


We made another overnight trip to Richmond, VA on May 15, 2010 for a performance with the Richmond Symphony. The organ was an electronic Wurlitzer and we had pretty lousy seats in the front row right; but at least we had a great view of the soloist as he went about his work since the console was about 8 feet from us. 

We made another quick trip up to New York on June 5, 2010 for the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center. We hopped on the train and went up on Saturday morning, had dinner and some post dinner gelato from a street stand, and headed into the concert. We stayed overnight in the city and rode the train back the next morning.


In October, 2010 we had a two week trip to Montana and Alberta, British Colombia, Canada. The highlight of the trip was a concert on October 2 in Calgary with the Calgary Symphony. We were sort of disappointed that the conductor held the soloist back as the organ was barely audible in the finale…based on the size of this organ it clearly could and should have been played with more power.


After the trip we spent 2 weeks touring Banff and Jasper National Parks in Canada and Glacier National Park in Montana before heading back to Great Falls, Montana for our flight home. The parks were great but all of the wildlife had obviously gone somewhere for the winter as we saw a grand total of 2 deer in 6 days of driving around the parks and both of those were on the side of the freeway as we drove from Banff to Glacier. We also saw what is reputed to be the shortest river in the world in Great Falls. This is Roe River which flows from Giant Springs over to the Missouri River in Great Falls…the river is 200 feet long total. Here is a picture of the river; the Missouri is just beyond the tree in the center of the frame and the Roe is the one in front of the tree. We tried to figure out why it was a named river instead of just the Great Springs but nobody was available at the visitor center to ‘splain it to us.


We drove over to Wheeling, WV on November 5, 2010 for another quick weekend trip. Wheeling is a 2 stoplight kind oftown but we did have a nice hike on the way over and some decent food. The concert was pretty decent…and this remains the only venue we have been to where you can stop in the lobby and order a beer and some nachos to take into the concert hall with you. That sounds a bit strange; but then the performance was in the Capital Theater which normally hosts a weekly show very similar to the Grand Old Opry…so you get a lot of rednecks and I guess beer and nachos are the only way to get anybody to come in.

2005-2007 Performances

Following our last performance in 2001; we sort of fell down on the job and really didn’t get started on serious attempts to listen to the symphony frequently until 2005.

March 6, 2005 saw a quick weekend trip over to Delaware, OH to see a performance in the Gray Chapel at the Ohio Weslyan University. The Rexford Keller Memorial Organ of 4522 pipes, 82 ranks, and 55 stops pretty much filled the entire sanctuary of the chapel and this remained the best performance we heard for years.


On October 29, 2005…we flew over to London for the weekend to drink Guinness, meet Bill Miller (Connie’s choir director) who happened to be in London at the same time, and attend a performance at the Royal Albert Hall. This organ has over 10,000 pipes with the largest ones being about 3 feet in diameter and easily 80 feet tall. Unfortunately; Royal Albert Hall is about the size of the Superdome in New Orleans and is more of an arena than a concert hall. This results in pretty bad acoustics so the performance was just average. It is a really big organ though.



Our next performance was Feb 26, 2006 at Strathmore Hall in Rockville, MD with the National Philharmonic Orchestra. This was a local trip from our home in Fairfax, VA and despite being an electronic organ the performance of both the orchestra and organ were outstanding.

Mar 4, 2006 had us driving down to Richmond, VA to the First Baptist Church for a performance. Again, a pretty decent performance…albeit we had to suffer through a Massian piece first.

Feb 4, 2007 was our first attempt to really go out of town for a performance. We hopped on the shuttle and flew up for the day to New York for a performance at a small Catholic CHurch in mid-town. The good news was that the church had a nice pipe organ in it…the bad news is that the orchestra didn’t bother using it but hauled in a rock band type electronic organ with the speakers sitting right in front of the organ console. Supposedly this was because the orchestra couldn’t tune to the organ but who really knows. In addition; the scheduled guest organist refused to play on that piece of junk so they got a (bad) student to play instead. The overall result was not really worth listening to…but we stopped by P.D. O’Harley’s afterwards and drowned our sorrows with Guinness and Jameson Irish Whiskey.


Later in 2007 we tried to fly out to Chicago for a performance on November 18. Unfortunately this trip got aborted at the start…we arrived at BWI Airport outside of DC to catch our 9AM flight which was cancelled due to a broken plane. We tried to reschedule but were unable to get another flight which arrived early enough for the concert so we had to just cancel the whole excursion and go back home.

2000 and 2001 Performances

Our first performance of the symphony was at the National Presbyterian Cathedral, Washington DC on May 23, 2000. This is a Gothic style cathedral with 3 pipe organs installed but all are capable of being played on a single console. We got last minute tickets and hence were sitting behind and to the left of the orchestra…the main nave of the cathedral is cross shaped with the orchestra sitting at the central junction. Due to our lousy seating and the reverberation issues in the cathedral due to being made in the Gothic style (all stone with nothing to really dampen out the reverberations) the performance was out of sync. Still though; this is the best single organ we’ve heard. Connie liked the performance a lot and we started our listening quest shortly thereafter.

Next up was a performance in April of 2001 at a small Catholic church in the Great Falls, VA area. Unfortunately neither of us can remember the name of the church or anything about the performance other than the time frame. We vaguely remember that the pipes were behind the altar itself and included in addition to normal vertical pipes long trumpet shaped pipes about 20 feet in length that were horizontal and projected over the alter. We can’t remember if this actually improved the sound but it did look pretty cool.