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Ken Cowan: One of the new generation symphonic organists

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    Ken Cowan: One of the new generation symphonic organists

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    I am so encouraged in the last couple of years to discover a younger generation of organ phenoms that are not only playing the organs of the world well, but indeed, seem to be reviving the very best of what organ playing is all about. In particular, these young artists are executing the 'standard literature' with great maturity of interpretation and understanding, but also, many of them are embracing literature, both from organ (and non-organ) composition, that could best be described as 'symphonic' in nature. </P>

    Such is the case with Ken Cowan, Acting Assistant Professor of Organ at Westminster Choir College. He is a former pupil of Thomas Murray of Yale University, and has obviously had his share of time working on, and over the great Woolsey Hall Skinner Organ there. The result from this young artist is music playing that stirs the very soul, releasing human expression such as we have not heard in more than a generation or two. </P>

    I have heard him on a number of occasions, and every time am just amazed at the depth of understanding of some very sophisticated musical compositions, and how he is able to bring off this music in some very unlikely settings. He takes the resources set before him from any particular organ registration, and turns it into pure music.He has such command of each work that he plays (memorized, of course), presenting well-balanced programs with musical interests for a wide range of eager listeners. </P>

    Did I mention transcriptions from other musical sources??? He is a master already (in his early 30's) of 'borrowing' from piano and orchestral scores, bringing them alive, and with a new freshness to organ venues.Realizing that this older practice from days gone by was largelymotivated by the fact that many people did not get to hear such works (especially thesymphonic ones) first hand, so the organist was providing a vicarious rendering of some great music, just so it could be heard. However, the idea of borrowing from one musical source and playing in another has been a practice for a very long time, and done correctly, and with artistry, have produced some amazing results -- legitimate in their own rights, and when done with a flair of genius, havebrought a whole new expression of musical delight usingthe new musical setting.</P>

    And don't kid yourself, that is no small task, considering some of the organs performers have to play on these days. That is not to say that every organ can be miraculously changed into a 'real musical instrument'. I have heard so many of the newer instruments over the last 30 years or so, that just leave me cold as to 'music making'. Yes, they may allow you to register well,particular periods of organ literature, but once the registering is done, and the music is played, the basic sound of the instruments leaves me just plain flat, with nothing stirring my musical sensibilities, much less human emotions. </P>

    Some hope in this regard is found ininstruments that are bringing back a true symphonic quality of sound. Case in point might be some of the extraordinary (and yes, controversial) work exhibited inJack Bethards' Schoenstein instruments, whichhave the capacity to stir those human expressions that so many of us desire. And yes, not everyone who might play one of these new generation, symphonic instruments can bring that off. I'm sure in the hands of the wrong player, these instruments would surely not render anything close to a pleasing musical result. It takes a master of musical conceptualizing to bring these instruments alive, not unlike what is required from a great symphonic composer and [consequential] conductor.</P>

    In that regard, I'd like to recommend anew recording of the Schoenstein Organ in Lincoln, NE (1997) that is one of the finest examples of that which I speak to make it onto recording media. It is by this same talented, Ken Cowan, and is called, "Ken Cowan Plays Romantic Masterworks' -- on the Raven CD label. You've got to hear this outstanding playing and recording. He uses every wonderfully musical resource on the 110 rank Schoenstein to absolutely the best advantage in bringing off these great 19th century compositions. I truly believe the rendering of the Reubke 'Sonata, on Psalm 94' is one of the best ever recorded, showing its true symphonic character. It is a definitive match up of composer, performer, organ and engineering achievement. [Obviously, my humble opinion.]</P>

    The basic reason one would come to want to put this CD in their player and commit to listening, wouldsurely beof a desire to experience, in the highest sense of the phrase, true and unadulterated, soul-stirringmusic.</P></DIV>