Peabody's new pipe organ opens with Bach, of course

March 09, 1998|By Judith Green | Judith Green,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Peabody Conservatory of Music welcomed its gorgeous new Holtkamp pipe organ to the beautifully redone North Hall with a series of free recitals this weekend by the longtime head of its organ department, Donald Sutherland.

The hall has been renamed Leith Symington Griswold Hall, after a $2 million gift from her son, Benjamin H. Griswold IV (of BT Alex. Brown Inc.) and his wife, Wendy.

The organ itself, which cost $668,000 (of which $600,000 by Lyman and Nancy Woodson Spire), is a beauty with its brushed gold and silver pipes in an immense wooden case painted cream. It's a state-of-the-art construction from its electronically enhanced action to the digital readouts on its memory control panels.

The brief program demonstrated its colors and combinations, agilities and sonorities, responsiveness and reverberation, in works by some of the master composers for the "king of instruments."

Sutherland's artistic pedigree goes back to J.S. Bach, as his teacher was a student of a student of a student of Bach. No celebration of a new organ would be complete without its Bach, so Sutherland played the pretty chorale-prelude on "Wir glauben all an einen Gott" (the first line of the Credo of the Mass, 'We all believe in one God").

This led into a much more virtuosic work by Bach, the F major "Toccata," which has almost more notes for the feet to play than for both hands put together. Sutherland remarked that in the Jules Dassin film of "Phaedra," Anthony Perkins' character commits suicide by running his car over a cliff with this toccata playing on the car radio. "That's how I feel when I'm playing it," said the performer.

The program began and ended with works by great 19th-century organists. It started with the "Introduction and Passacaglia" in D minor by Max Reger and closed with the showy "Symphony V" by Charles Marie Widor.

In homage to the organ's builders, father and son Walter and Christian Holtkamp of Cleveland, Ohio, Sutherland included a wistful little song called "Soliloquy," written by David Conte in 1996 for the 40th anniversary of the senior Holtkamp's career as a maker of pipe organs. The Holtkamps were both at the Sunday afternoon recital.

The official dedicatory recital of the organ will be in the fall. In the meantime, it marks a milestone for Peabody, which is known for the excellence of its organ program without, until now, having a major concert instrument on the premises.

Another program on Sunday evening featured works for organ, instruments and voices, including a set of psalms for soprano and organ by Sebastian Forbes. It was sung by Sutherland's wife, Phyllis Bryn-Julson, also of the Peabody faculty.

Pub Date: 3/09/98

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