18th Century Italian organ will be first of its kind in this country

September 23, 2003

More Information:
Eastman Office of Communications, 585-274-1050

Rochester, NY — Amidst the striking Middle Ages and early Renaissance tapestries, sculptures, and frescoes in the dramatic second floor Fountain Court of the Memorial Art Gallery (MAG), one can almost hear the polyphonous strains of an 18th century organ resonating through the still air. That fantasy is about to meet reality thanks to a major component from the Eastman Rochester Organ Initiative (EROI), the Eastman School of Music’s 10-year plan to assemble a collection of new and historic organs unparalleled in North America.

At 7 p.m., Thursday, October 2, at the MAG (500 University Avenue) — as part of the opening event of the larger EROI Festival 2003 — Eastman School Director and Dean James Undercofler, MAG Director Grant Holcomb, and faculty members from Eastman’s organ department will announce plans for EROI’s first major accomplishment: the purchase and restoration of an antique Italian organ to be permanently installed in the Memorial Art Gallery’s Fountain Court in 2005. “This is a unique opportunity for this museum as it enhances and underscores the rich interrelationship between music and the visual arts,” says Holcomb. (Please note: due to limited space, guests may attend this event by invitation only.)

Created by an anonymous builder in the 1770s with substantial parts from an older organ (probably dating from the 1680s), this unique instrument will be the first full-size historic Italian Baroque organ in North America. It has a lavishly ornamented case, linking it to Italian court culture, and represents the genesis and the essence of European Baroque organ music played and taught worldwide. The organ is undergoing a three-year full restoration by its current owner, the expert organ builder Gerald Woehl of Marburg, Germany, in collaboration with the Göteborg Organ Art Center in Sweden, and the Eastman School. This historic organ will be used by Eastman students and faculty, visiting musicians, and local organists.

Eastman Organ Professor Hans Davidsson describes the Italian organ as being “virtually a ‘recording’ of the musical sounds heard hundreds of years ago,” remarking that no other work of art comprises so many aspects of a culture as does the historic pipe organ. David Higgs, chair of Eastman’s organ department, concurs. “The experience of Rochester’s knowledgeable audience for music, art, and history will be immeasurably enriched by the acquisition of this historic instrument,” he said. “It will allow the performance and study of a body of repertoire previously unavailable to both the Eastman School and the Rochester community.”

A new organ, modeled after a mid-18th century chamber organ, will be on loan from Cornell University for use in concerts throughout the EROI Festival to provide an “organ sound” in the Fountain Court. However, this instrument differs in style and sound from the Italian organ to be installed in 2005. The EROI Festival runs from Thursday, October 2, through Sunday, October 5, at various Rochester locations with the events free and open to the public. See below for event details.

In addition, a performance of Jean-Baptiste Lully’s comic 1675 opera-ballet, Le Carnaval Mascarade will be presented at 7 p.m., Friday, October 3, at Kilbourn Hall (26 Gibbs Street). There will be a charge for this concert. Call 274-1110 for ticket prices and further information.


Note: Interviews are available with members of Eastman’s organ faculty and students, and Mr. Holcomb. In addition, electronic photos of portions of the 18th century Italian organ (during restoration) are available.

EROI FESTIVAL — American Organ Building in the 20th Century — EVENTS:

Thursday, October 2

  • (BY INVITATION ONLY) 7 p.m. concert: Eastman Professors David Higgs, Hans Davidsson, and William Porter; The Publick Musick ensemble; announcement of Italian organ with additional visual materials; at MAG

Friday, October 3

  • 12:30 p.m. recital: Eastman students at Christ Church (141 East Avenue)
  • 9 p.m. recital: David Higgs celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Fisk organ; at Downtown
    United Presbyterian Church (DUPC, 121 North Fitzhugh Street), sponsored by DUPC

Saturday, October 4

  • 12-12:45 p.m. lecture: All The Stops: The Glorious Pipe Organ and Its American Masters by
    New York Times Associate Editor Craig R. Whitney; at MAG
  • 1-2:30 p.m. book-signing by Mr. Whitney; demonstration of organ pipe making; short recitals
    and presentations by Eastman students every half-hour at Fountain Court; at MAG
  • 7:30-8:15 p.m. recitals: Eastman students at MAG and Third Presbyterian Church (4 Meigs
  • 9-10 p.m. concert: Hans Davidsson with members of the Christ Church Schola Cantorum,
    Stephen Kennedy, director; The Publick Musick; co-sponsored by The Publick Musick; at Christ Church

Sunday, October 5

  • 3 p.m. concert: organ, harpsichord, and lute with William Porter and Paul O’Dette; at MAG
  • 7 p.m. recital: David Craighead; at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (41 Westminster Road)
  • 9 p.m.: The Order of Compline sung in Candlelight by the Schola Cantorum; at Christ Church