American Works for Organ and Orchestra


American Works For Organ and Orchestra

Samuel Barber (1910-1981)

  1. Toccata Festiva for Organ and Orchestra, Op. 36 (1960) (14:48)

Walter Piston (1894-1976)

Prelude and Allegro for Organ and Strings (1943) (10:04)

  1. Prelude (5:15)

  2. Allegro (4:48)

Leo Sowerby (1895-1968)

  1. Concertpiece for Organand Orchestra, H.307 (1951) (18:17)

Michael Colgrass (b. 1932)

Snow Walker for Organ and Orchestra (1990) (21:42)

  1. I. Polar Landscape (5:21)

  2. II. Throat-singing, with Laughter (1:30)

  3. III. The Whispering Voices of the Spirits Who Ride with the Lights in the Sky (4:05)

  4. IV. Ice and Light (4:40)

  5. V. Snow Walker (6:03)

David Schrader, organ

Grant Park Orchestra / Carlos Kalmar, conductor

Total Playing Time: (65:15)


American Works for Organ and Orchestra Notes by Richard E. Rodda

Toccata Festiva for Organ and Orchestra, Op. 36 - Samuel Barber (1910-1981)

Barber's Toccata Festiva is scored for three flutes (including piccolo), three oboes (including English horn), three clarinets (including bass clarinet), two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion and strings. The Grant Park Orchestra first performed Tocaata Festiva on April 9, 1997. Eiji Oue conducted, with David Schrader, organist.

Early in 1960, the telephone rang in the office of Eugene Ormandy, Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra. “Eugene,” said the voice on the receiver, “are you standing? Please sit down - I'm giving you that pipe organ for the Academy of Music that you've been longing for.” “Do you know how much that will cost?” he asked incredulously. “Don't worry about that,” came the reply. The caller was Mary Curtis Bok Zimbalist a staunch patron of the Orchestra and one of Philadelphia's most ardent champions of the arts. She explained that she wanted to donate the instrument in memory of her father, Cryrus H.K. Curtis, himself an organist, and that she would like to request a piece from her protégé Samuel Barber to dedicate the organ. Ormandy eagerly accepted the proposal, and Barber agreed to write the work, but refused to accept the proffered commission fee in appreciation of Mrs. Zimbalist's continuing friendship and support. The Aeolian-Skinner Company of Boston was engaged to build the instrument, and was instructed to design it for a tonal brilliance that would compliment the stentorian sonorities of the Philadelphia Orchestra. The resulting instrument, the largest movable pipe organ in the world at the time of its completion, was made to be set up on stage when needed, and then dismantled and stored until its next use. It was constructed at the cost of $150, 000, weighed 200,000 pounds, and had 4,102 pipes, three manuals, and 73 stops. The dedication of the organ through the medium of Barber's new Toccata Festiva took place at the Academy of Music of September 30, 1960. Paul Callaway, organist and choir director of the Washington Cathedral, was the soloist. The event also marked the beginning of Ormandy's 25th season as Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Barber wrote the Toccata Festiva to exhibit both the full technical possibilities of the new organ and the sonorities it could create in combination with the virtuoso orchestra. The work is in several sections encompassing meditative solo passages, majestic full-ensemble fanfares, and organ-orchestra dialogues. These are unified by transformations of a brief, two-measure theme in 5/8 meter, first presented by the organ following the sweeping introductory proclamation.

Prelude and Allegro for Organ and Strings - Walter Piston (1894-1976)

The Grant Park Orchestra's first performances of Piston's Prelude and Allegro to place at its concerts on July 7 and 8, 2001.

The grandson of an Italian seaman (Antonio Pistone) who settled in New England, Walter Piston was born in Rockland, Maine on January 20, 1894. The boy taught himself to play violin and piano after the family moved to Boston in 1905. His initial professional training was not in music but in draftsmanship and architecture at the Massachusetts Normal school of Art, where he met his future wife, Kathryn Mason. He worked as a draftsman for the Boston Elevated Railway while a student, and also played violin in pickup bands and theater orchestras around Boston. After graduating in 1916, Piston enlisted in the Navy as a bandsman and was assigned to play saxophone in a band stationed in Boston (he learned the instrument from an instruction manual in just a few days). Determined to follow a music career after his stint in the Navy, Piston enrolled in Archibald T. Davison's counterpoint class at Harvard upon his discharge in 1919. He entered the school's formal degree program in music the following year and graduated summa cum laude in 1924. A John Knowles Paine Traveling Fellowship enabled him to spend two years in Paris, where he studied composition privately with Nadia Boulanger and Paul Dukas. Upon his return to America in 1926, Piston accepted a teaching position at Harvard, a tenure that lasted until 1960. For his creative work, he was honored with two Pulitzer Prizes (for his Symphonies No. 3 [1948] and No. 7 [1961]), a Naumburg Award (for Symphony No. 4), a Guggenheim Fellowship, and two New York Music Critics Circle Awards.

After moving to America in 1930, the English-born organist E. Power Biggs established himself among the leading performers of his generation with his recordings, international concert tours, and weekly recitals broadcast over CBS from 1942 to 1958. In 1943, Biggs wanted to include a movement from a concerto by the 18th century Spanish master Antonio Soler on one of his programs, but had only a recording to work from; the manuscript score was in Spain and unobtainable. Biggs asked Piston to transcribe the piece, which he did in a day. Suitably impressed, Biggs commissioned Piston to write an original work for one of the broadcasts. Biggs premiered the result, Piston's Prelude and Allegro for Organ and Strings, on August 8, 1943 with conductor Arthur Fiedler. (For many years Fiedler balanced his duties as music director of the Boston Pops with more serious fare performed by his own Fiedler Sinfonietta.) Piston biographer Howard Pollack hears the work as a product of its troubled time: “The Prelude, measured in pace with somber in expression, is a three voice canon (a polyphonic composition in which all the voices are derived from a single melody and heard in succession according to the instruction or “rule” [“canon” in Greek and Latin] provided by the composer). The strings provide accompaniment and often participate in the canonic processes. The energetic and sternly heroic Allegro is based on a strong rhythmic theme that returns, rondo-like, in varied forms throughout the movement.

Concertpiece for Organ and Orchestra, H.307 - Leo Sowerby (1895-1968)

Leo Sowerby's Concertpiece is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion and strings. The Grant Park Orchestra's first performances of Concertpiece took place at its concerts on July 8 and 9, 2000.

Composer, teacher, and church musician Leo Sowerby was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan on May 1, 1895. By the time his family moved to Chicago fourteen years later, he had shown genuine talent as a pianist and had begun to compose and teach himself to play organ. In Chicago, he studied piano with Percy Grainger and theory with Arthur Olaf Anderson. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra premiered his Violin Concerto No. 1 in 1913. Chicago Symphony premieres of his Piano Concerto and Cello Concerto followed before Sowerby left to serve as a military bandmaster during World War I. Soon after returning to Chicago following the War he earned a degree from the American Conservatory. In 1920, he became the first composer to be awarded the American Prix de Rome, and lived at the American Academy in Rome until 1924. Back in Chicago 1925, Sowerby joined the faculty of the American Conservatory and two years later became organist and choirmaster of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. James. He served in both posts until 1962, when he moved to Washington, D.C. to become founding director of the College of Church Musicians at the National Cathedral Sowerby died in Port Clinton, Ohio, on July 7, 1968. He was honored with election to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1935 and a Pulitzer Prize in 1946 (for his cantata The Canticle of the Sun), and was the first American to be made a Fellow of the Royal School of Church Music in London (1957). Among his large creative output, which includes almost all of the traditional genres except those for the stage, are more than fifty works for organ that accommodate a wide range of idioms yet always display his particularly American voice.

Sowerby's 1951 Concertpiece for Organ and Orchestra is arranged in three large formal paragraphs, with brilliant and virtuosic music in the outer sections framing a more meditative central episode.

Snow Walker for Organ and Orchestra - Michael Colgrass (b. 1932)

Snow Walker is scored for piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, E-flat clarinet, two B-flat clarinets, bass clarinet, bassoon, contrabassoon, two horns, two trumpets, two trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion piano, celesta, harp and strings. The Grant Park Orchestra's first performances of Snow Walker took place at its concerts on July 7 and 8, 2001.

From his early childhood, music held an irresistible attraction for Chicago-born Michael Colgrass. He purchased his first set of drums at age ten from his earnings as a golf caddy and formed his own jazz band two years later. After graduating from Riverside-Brookfield High School in Chicago in 1950, he entered the University of Illinois at Urbana to study percussion with Paul Price and composition with Eugene Weigl - his first formal instruction. Colgrass spent the following summers studying composition at Tanglewood with Lukas Foss and at Aspen with Darius Milhaud, but interrupted his undergraduate work for a stint in the Seventh Army Symphony Orchestra in Germany from 1954-1956. He received his bachelor's degree soon after leaving the service and moved to New York after graduating. While working as a free-lance drummer and percussionist (including on the original production of West Side Story and many of the “Stravinsky conducts Stravinsky” recordings on Columbia), Colgrass studied privately with Wallingford Riegger and Ben Weber and composed steadily. His early works, many featuring percussion instruments, wee modernistic and serial. Following an unnerving attack of amnesia during a stressfully busy period in 1966, he began to limit his performing and adopt a more immediately accessible compositional style. His first work in this new idiom, the charming and witty As Quiet As…(inspired by fourth-graders' completions of their teacher's opening phrase, “let's be as quiet as…”), was performed by orchestras across the country and recorded by Erich Leinsdorf and the Boston Symphony. In 1968, with the aid of a Rockefeller grant, he studied theater arts at the Commedia dell'arte of the Piccolo Teatro in Milan and the Polish Theater Laboratory. Colgrass has since established himself among the leading composers of his generation with performances and commissions from leading orchestras, chamber ensembles, choruses, and soloists. He received the Pulitzer Prize in 1978 for Déjà vu for Percussion Quartet and Orchestra, and an Emmy in 1982 for the PBS documentary Soundings: The Music of Michael Colgrass.

In a program note for the premiere, the composer wrote, “Snow Walker was inspired by the Arctic and by the lives and legends of the Inuit who live there. The Snow Walker is the Inuit image for death and resurrection. The spirit of Show Walker is present throughout this concerto, which is divided into five sections.

“In the opening section (Polar Landscpae), the organ is an omnipresent force that weaves in and out of the sounds of winds, wolves and storms represented by the orchestra. In the second section (throat-singing, with Laughter), we hear both the indomitable spirit and the sense of humor of the Inuit. Throat-singing is a unique form of Inuit music created by the rapid in- and out-takes of breath on fast rhythms that produce almost continual laughter in singers and onlookers alike. In the third section (The Whispering Voices of the Spirits Who Ride with the Lights in the Sky), we hear the organ transform from a muttering, mysterious being into `gossamer curtains of light that seem to undulate across the Arctic skies,' as Barry Lopez described the aurora borealis in his Arctic Dreams. In the fourth section (Ice and Light), the organ creates the illusion of ice, the formation of an iceberg that glitters in the sun like a splendid floating cathedral, and then melts - another form of transformation. In the last section (Snow Walker), we hear the interplay between the Snow Walker and the Inuit: the life-affirming drum dances and the wildness of the sharran, which were inspired by the sculptures of Karoo Ashevak.

“I lived for a short time with an Inuit family in Pangnirtung, Baffin Island, just north of the Arctic Circle, and their moods, humor, sense of mystery and wonder at the awesome nature around them were an inspiration to me. I also read a great deal about the Arctic and the Inuit. Farley Mowat's books (People of the Deer, Never Cry Wolf, Snow Walker) were especially influential in the creation of this work. Snow Walker is respectfully dedicated to Farley Mowat, who traversed unmapped territories of the Canadian North exploring its nature and its people.”

Dr. Richard E. Rodda has provided program notes for the Orchestras of Berlin, Cleveland, Chicago, Dallas, and Cincinnati, as well as for the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center., the American Symphony and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the Great Park Music Festival, the Curtis Institute of Music and many other ensembles and organizations across the country. He has written liner notes for Telarc, Sony Classical, Decca, Angel, Arabesque, Newport Classics, Delos, Azica, and Dorian. Dr. Rodda also teaches at Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Institute of Music.

Designing the Orchestra Hall Organ Hall Organ by Jeff Weilier

Pipe organs can be considered successful only when they meet the musical demands of use and space. This explains why the organ is so varied in form, scope, and sound. This wonderful abundance of styles reflects a wide range of needs and designs from the theatre organ, to organs designed to accompany specific liturgies, to strictly academic instruments built in keeping with historical tradition. All are appropriate when the design of the organ reflects the requirements of its users and the size and purpose of the space in which it is contained. The concert hall pipe organ is likewise unique, serving as both partner and sovereign to the symphony orchestra.

I was asked to serve as organ consultant to the Chicago Symphony in 1992 as it planned a major redevelopment of Orchestra Hall. I came to the project with tow primary questions:

  1. What was the extent of the symphonic literature that included organ?

  2. Why in many recordings does the organ seem strikingly sterile and un-beautiful when paired with the vibrant instruments of the orchestra?

A study of the standard, organ-inclusive orchestral literature produced a massive repertoire list. Late Romantic and modern composers - the greatest contributors to the body of music - usually had very specific goals when they included an organ in their scores. Their choices were generally based on the instruments they knew best: those built in the 1880s through 1930s. Thus, it seemed to me that the tonal vocabulary of the Romantic organ made the most sense when designing an instrument primarily for this literature. Much of this music uses the organ as simply another member of the orchestra, providing atmosphere and drama without drawing attention to itself. The strings in the orchestra are often paired with like voices in the organ, as are the woodwinds, brass, and even percussion. The organ is often used very subtly, at times even imperceptibly, undergirding the orchestra with a carpet of foundation tone for an extended palette of orchestral color. Music that presents the organ in a solo role with the orchestra has other important, but more readily discernible demands: the instrument must be vivid, expressive, and agile, yet also possess enough brute strength to rise above a full orchestra and masses chorus - and leave them all behind in a cloud of sonic dust.

When paired with some of the finest instrumentalists in the world, the organ must be flexible and sound sumptuously beautiful. The bellows of the organ must respond like the lungs of a wind instrumentalist or singer, changing with the demands of the music. Terms such as intonation, balance, blend, and ensemble apply to organ sounds just as much as to those made by orchestral instruments.

All aspects of the design and installation of the Casavant organ in Orchestra Hall were carefully considered. The low-level of the console was carefully planned so that the organist could maintain clear visual communication with the conductor. It can be placed anywhere on stage to suit a variety of performance conditions. The visible (functional) pipe displays echo the 1904 designs by Daniel Burnham, the famous Chicago architect who created the original plans for Orchestra hall. This façade offers barely a hint at the massiveness of the pipes and organ mechanism hidden from audience view, however. The organ loft, located above the Choral Terrace, extends full breadth of the hall and rises three stories upward. At each end of this space stand massive plaster and lathe chambers for the organ's enclosed expressive divisions. Swell shutters cover the majority of the surface area of these rooms making it possible for walls literally to disappear on the organist's command. Pipes of the Great and pedal divisions are distributed across the entire expanse. The colossal wooden Pedal Contrabass - the largest open wood stop ever built by Casavant - stands on the central axis of the room, firmly anchored to the concrete wall two feet thick - a most happy situation for the primary Pedal flute stop. The organ loft is capped by a concrete reflector five stories above the stage floor, completely unseen by the audience. This has proved beneficial to organ and orchestra alike, mixing and directing sound into the auditorium.

The blowers are found in a specially planned suite four floors beneath the organ proper. The makeup air for the organ is carefully filtered, and the blower room is super cooled to ensure that pitch and tuning are rock solid at A=442. Several important mechanical details hearken back to Casavant organs of the 1920s and 1930s. Large reservoirs supply wind to the Choir and Swell divisions. (In more contemporary instruments, these have been replaced by small moveable plates called Schwimmers that are built right into the bottoms of the windchests on which the organ pipes stand.) the wind system also includes traditional Casavant pneumatic tremulants. High wind pressures of 6”, 10”, and 25” (the measurements are expressed as inches of displacement in a column of water) are used throughout the organ (instead of the more common pressures of 3-4”). Accordingly, wind conductors traversing the organ loft have had special insulation applied to attenuate high-pressure rumble. The result is near silent operation of the instrument - exceedingly important in a space for serious music making.

Because the Orchestra Hall Casavant is purpose-built towards the performance of symphonic repertoire, the scales of the pipe-work are ample. The specifications and voicing treatments of the individual stops were also carefully considered in this light. The timbres of the stops, the manner in which choruses are integrated, and the individual power curves of each rank - set during extended on-site tonal finishing - are all based on an appreciation of the relevant literature. Two of the most interesting voices are found in the Choir: a very orchestral, capped Clarinet in the style of former Casavant tonal director Stephen Stoot, and a magnificent unit Tuba Mirabilis playing on 25” of wind at 17-, 8-, and 4- foot pitches.

At 22 speaking stops, the Orchestra Hall organ is moderate in size. But its unique design, incorporating a more retrospective approach to the tonal plan, and advantageous placement give it a musical presence that can be both delicate and heroic.

Jeff Weiler is Organ Consultant and Curator for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

About David Schrader

Born in Chicago in 1952, David Schrader received his Performer's Certificate (1975), Masters (1976), and Doctor of Music Degree (1987) from Indiana University and is now a Professor at Roosevelt University's College of the Performing Arts. A familiar figure to audiences in the Windy City, the multifaceted Schrader has been hailed for his performances of baroque and classical repertoire on harpsichord and fortepiano, and music of vastly divergent styles and eras on organ and piano. Mr. Schrader has appeared in recital and performed with major orchestras throughout North America, Europe, and Japan, including frequent appearances as soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under such celebrated conductors as Daniel Barenboim, Claudio Abbado, Erich Leinsdorf, and Georg Solti, with whom Schrader has made three recordings for London records. David Schrader is currently organist in Chicago's Church of the ascension and a member of the Chicago Baroque Ensemble. This is Mr. Schrader's seventeenth recording for Cedille Records, including three solo organ CDs.

About Carlos Kalmar

Principal conductor of The Chicago Park district's Grant Park Music Festival, Carlos Kalmar leads the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus for half of the Festival's ten-week season.

Mr. Kalmar was born in 1958 in Montevideo, Uruguay, to Austrian parents. He studied conducting with Karl Osterreicher at the College for Music in Vienna, and won First Prize at the Hans Swarowsky Conducting Competition in Vienna in June 1984. From 1987 to 1991 he was chief conductor of the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra and general music director and chief conductor of the Stuttgart Philharmonic Orchestra from 1991 to 1995. From 1996 through 200, Carlos Kalmar was the general music director of the Opera House and Philharmonic Orchestra in Dessau, Germany. In 2000, he assumed the post of principal conductor with the Niederosterreichisches Tonkunstleorchestrer in Vienna.

Maestro Kalmar has conducted many Austrian orchestras with gret success, including regular appearances with the ORF Symphony Orchestra, the Vienna Symphony. The Tonkunstler Orchestra of Vienna, and the Vienna Chamber Orchestra. Mr. Kalmar has also guest conducted numerous orchestras elsewhere in Europe and America, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Seattle Symphony, Detroit, Symphony, Oregon Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, Bamberg Symphony, Berlin Radio Symphony, National Orchestra of Spain, and the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra in New York. He has also conducted operas at many top European opera houses including the Vienna State Opera, Hamburg State Opera, Zurich Opera, National Opera of Brussels, and Vienna Volksoper.

About the Grant Park Orchestra

The Grant Park Orchestra is the resident orchestra of the Grant Park Music Festival, which is dedicated to providing the public with free high quality orchestral performances through the presentation of classical music concerts. Founded by the Chicago Park District in 1935 and co-presented by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs since 2001, the Festival is the nation's only remaining free, municipally funded, outdoor classical music series.

The Grant Park Orchestra was created in 1943. Nicolai Malko became its first principle conductor in 1945, a post he held through 1956. Since then other prestigious conductors have held the position including Irwin Hoffman, Leonard Slatkin, David Aionman, Zdenek Macal, and Hugh Wolff. In October 1999, Carlos Kalmar was named as the Festival's newest principal conductor and James Paul was installed as the Festival's first-ever principal guest conductor. In addition to performing an array of classical repertoire, the Grant Park Orchestra is renowned for its focus on contemporary American music.

The Grant Park Music Festival runs for ten consecutive weeks every summer at the Petrillo Music Shell, located in the heart of Chicago's Grant Park. All Grant Park Music Festival performances are free to the public. Beginning with the 2004 season, the Festival will move tot its new home in Millennium Park with its new music pavilion designed by celebrated architect Frank Gehry.