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Dobson Organ at Kimmel Center, Philadelphia prepares to open...

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  • Dobson Organ at Kimmel Center, Philadelphia prepares to open...

    Giant Organ New Addition at Kimmel Center
    February 6, 2006 - It's the traditional sounds of the pipe organ. But in the modern setting of Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center, it's sure to be even more of a standout.

    Lynn Dobson/Dobson Pipe Organ Builders: "This is one of the larger of the concert hall organs around the country. It is the largest organ that has been built in just the last few years in the world."
    And now after nearly 8 years of planning and fund-raising, Monday night it was given an official name.
    "The name of this fabulous instrument: The Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ."
    Frederick Haas/Kimmel Organ Committee: "He sang. He was a tenor. He played the violin and according to my mother, he also played the pipe organ."
    Cooper's grandson spearheaded the effort to raise money for the 6 million dollar project.
    Frederick Haas: "I feel that any really excellent concert hall isn't complete without a pipe organ. So, a lot of my job in the beginning was really convincing the leadership and the people of supporting this effort."
    When it's entirely built, this organ will have 6,938 pipes. And they range in size.
    The goal is to finish installing it by the end of April. Until then, renowned musicians will be fine-tuning it.

    It's expected to be an even bigger draw to Philadelphia's premiere music hall.

    Janet Price/CEO, Kimmel Center: "We're convinced that young people new to the instrument, when they get a chance to hear it in this setting, they'll be surprised by the power of the instrument."

  • #2
    Re: Dobson Organ at Kimmel Center, Philadelphia prepares to open...

    Philadelphia Orchestra's New Toy Is an Organ Full of Bells and Whistles

    Published: May 15, 2006
    PHILADELPHIA, May 12 — The Philadelphia Orchestra, a vaunted treasure revered around the world, is more or less used to being upstaged in its home setting. In all those decades it played in the Academy of Music — a gorgeously appointed, historic opera house that, in its recently renovated state, still delights the eye — it was upstaged by the setting, acoustics be damned (and they were).

    Ryan Donnell for The New York Times
    Olivier Latry at the organ with the Philadelphia Orchestra on Friday.
    When, at long last, Valhalla arrived in 2001, with an acoustically correct concert hall in the new Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, the auditorium inevitably drew more attention to itself than to its prime resident. Though it could never match the academy, it was indeed beautiful. But just how much better were the acoustics? (Considerably, it turns out.)

    So it was not surprising to find the orchestra taking a back seat again in its subscription concerts at Verizon Hall (as the auditorium is called) on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. Or, more accurately, a front seat, for the main attraction loomed behind the players: a mighty new pipe organ, whose installation could begin in earnest only after the hall had been completed and the dust had settled, literally.

    That installation is now almost complete. (The pipes that dominate the facade, which have been in place all along, have yet to be tuned and voiced, a process scheduled for the summer.) And those orchestral concerts — with Olivier Latry, the organist of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, as the hard-working soloist — were merely the beginning of a two-week festival celebrating the new arrival.

    It is, no question, big. There are different ways to define size when it comes to pipe organs, including not only physical bulk, weight and number of parts, but also sheer output of sound. In any case the makers of this instrument — Dobson Pipe Organ Builders of Lake City, Iowa — call it the biggest pipe organ in any concert hall in the United States, a claim supported by Michael Barone, an expert in the field and the host of "Pipedreams" on American Public Media, who attended a press briefing on Friday afternoon.

    It has 6,938 pipes, ranging from pencil-size to more than 40 feet, deployed in 125 ranks. In a demonstration and performance for the press, Jeffrey Brillhart, an organist from Bryn Mawr, Pa., coaxed out a high, thin, almost inaudible piping that was seemingly adrift in the hall (like the familiar whine of a malfunctioning hearing aid), then sounded a hoarse, bottomless, almost pitchless flutter that the builders refer to as a "tuned helicopter."

    The instrument's unusual features include a facade that tilts slightly forward, and curves to blend with the contours of the hall, which is shaped like the sound box of a cello. It also has two kinds of key action: mechanical (tracker) for the main console, mounted in the facade, and electrical for a stage console.

    And it does create a glorious ruckus, yet one that — to judge from the blast that opened the finale of Saint-Saëns's Third Symphony on Friday — the hall can comfortably contain. That symphony was the capstone of the Philadelphia Orchestra program, in which all the works prominently featured Mr. Latry and the organ.

    The Saint-Saëns doesn't get a lot of respect. Though a model of French elegance and sensuousness, it can easily devolve into mere flash and dazzle, as it did here toward the end of an otherwise attractive finale.

    Christoph Eschenbach, the orchestra's music director, made a mad dash of that ending — in sharpest contrast to some lugubrious tempos in earlier movements. In addition the billowing ripples in the main theme of the first movement turned to edgy twitters. But the orchestra, sounding its luxurious self, and Mr. Latry responded beautifully to Mr. Eschenbach's excesses and idiosyncrasies, and the audience was wildly appreciative.

    Samuel Barber's "Toccata Festiva" (a Philadelphia Orchestra commission in 1960) and Francis Poulenc's Organ Concerto afforded more straightforward showcases for Mr. Latry and the organ, and both rose admirably to the occasion. "Toward Light," a work newly commissioned by the orchestra from Gerald Levinson, a composer in Swarthmore, Pa., opened the program. It uses the organ not so much to develop structure as to provide splashes of color to what he describes as curtains and masses of sound, all of it rich in astringent dissonance.

    After each evening's concert Mr. Latry played a solo postlude: on Friday virtuosic pieces by Franck, Charles-Marie Widor and Louis Vierne. His deftness of hand and foot, and his acute ear in mixing registrations and colorations only enhanced a favorable impression of both his playing and the instrument.

    Asked about the organ, Mr. Latry described it as wonderfully versatile. "It has a very strong personality, which is good," he said. He compared playing it to a collaboration in chamber music. "It's like finding a new partner," he said.

    Like his organ at the cathedral, he added, "The organ sometimes says, 'No, don't do that.' "

    "Unfortunately, it doesn't say what to do," he said. "It just says, 'Do something.' "