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.

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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.