On Monday, July 9, a massive shipping container arrived in downtown Rochester following a month-long, 4,000-mile, sea-and-land journey from Sweden. Carefully loaded inside were all the mechanical parts and the parts of the case for the city’s newest instrument: a 15-ton pipe organ to be built inside Christ Church.
Workers unloaded and carried the pieces from the container into the church adjacent on East Avenue, meticulously placing them on the sanctuary floor for examination. The next day, sections of the organ were lifted onto the newly-constructed balcony. Then, a special team of five organ builders from the United States and Sweden began their work, installing the bellows—which produce the air that sounds the organ—and the case which will house the whole instrument. Though new, the organ is built after a historic instrument in Lithuania that is considered the best-preserved late Baroque organ in central and northern Europe.
The original instrument which the Christ Church organ duplicates is located in Holy Ghost Church in Lithuania’s capital city of Vilnius, where it was built in 1776 by celebrated organ builder Adam Gottlob Casparini. The Casparini organ in Vilnius is the largest and best-preserved late Baroque organ in northern Europe and is undergoing a conservation project overseen by the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture.
In Rochester, the reproduction of the Casparini organ will be named the Craighead-Saunders Organ in honor of two legendary Eastman faculty organists: Professor Emeritus David Craighead and the late Russell Saunders. It is the first organ in the United States to be built completely in the style popular in central and northern Europe in the late 18th century. One of the goals of the reconstruction, notes Hans Davidsson, professor of organ at the Eastman School of Music, is to not only recreate the qualities of the Casparini organ as a historical artifact, but also to capture the grander, more enveloping sound character produced by organs of that time period. Davidsson is directing and overseeing the construction and installation of the organ.
“Contemporary organs do not sound the same as historical organs, and we are looking to build an instrument that has the quality and character of sound that organs had in Bach’s time and cultural environment,” says Davidsson, A member of the Eastman faculty since 2001, Davidsson founded the Göteborg Organ Art Center in Sweden and is an international expert in organ research and education and musicology.
When completed in 2008, the new organ will be used for teaching, practice, and public recitals and concerts by Eastman students and faculty and other guest musicians and also for the enrichment of services at Christ Church.
“This project will provide both Eastman and the Rochester community with an organ more suitable for the music of Johann Sebastian Bach than anywhere else in North America,” said Davidsson.
The construction of the Craighead-Saunders Organ is part of the Eastman Organ Initiative (EROI), a long-range project to make Rochester a global center for organ research and performance by assembling a collection of new and historic organs. The installation of the Italian Baroque Organ in the University of Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery in 2005 was part of the project. Future plans include the renovation of the historic E. M. Skinner organ housed in the Eastman School’s Kilbourn Hall and the restoration and replacement of the School’s practice organs.
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