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.

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