Peabody organ's time has arrived 150 treated to its debut at institute recital

March 09, 1998|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

After years of waiting, Peabody Institute organist Donald S. Sutherland finally had the peak experience of playing a first-class recital organ of his own under the grand ceiling of the newly named Griswold Hall.

With some help from J. S. Bach, Sutherland, 58, showed yesterday what the new Peabody pipe organ -- 26 feet high and 23 feet wide -- can do in a recital. An audience of 150 invited guests included the diminutive Leith Symington Griswold, 82, for whom North Hall was renamed.

Beaming like a young boy blowing out his birthday candles as he took his bows, Sutherland said that until now he had been a musical nomad of sorts.

"I've been all over town," he said, traveling from church to church to practice and perform. About the thrill of playing toccatas on the 3,000 Peabody pipes, he said, "It's a dream."

The Peabody archivist, Elizabeth Schaaf, said the cusp of the millennium marks a bright moment in the life of the 141-year-old conservatory because it was about 50 years since the Peabody last had a performance organ.

"One of the most supreme ironies of Peabody is that we have had one of the most famous organists in the country, a man who is the pupil of the pupil of the pupil of J. S. Bach heading a department that had no concert quality organ for its students to perform on," Robert Sirota, the Peabody's director, said in his welcome.

When Sirota introduced Griswold, the matriarch of the Baltimore banking family that had owned Alex. Brown & Sons for seven generations, about 20 members of the Griswold family led the guests in a standing ovation.

"This is the most beautiful thing we've ever seen, and this room is absolutely gorgeous," said Griswold, who studied piano at the Peabody when she was in her teens. But, she said, "I was hardly one of the most talented, but it taught me to appreciate music."

Benjamin H. Griswold IV said he and his wife, Wendy, gave $2 million to endow the newly renovated recital hall and piano scholarships in honor of his mother.

The concert was a feast for the eyes and ears, with the green-gold room with a Parthenon-like frieze in harmony with the voices of the pipes, which sounded alternately like trumpets, lutes, bells and strings.

"Wonderful colors of sound," said Christian Holtkamp, 43, the fourth-generation organ builder of the Holtkamp family firm in Cleveland, which built the $668,000 instrument. He said he and the room's architects, Ziger/Snead Inc., collaborated closely. Yesterday's concert also marked a moment in an enduring friendship between Sutherland and Walter "Chick" Holtkamp, also there for the organ's first hearing.

"In the words of Vernon Jordan, Chick, this is for our friendship yesterday, today and tomorrow," said Sutherland as he dedicated a piece titled "Soliloquy" to him.

Pub Date: 3/09/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.