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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.