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Organ Recital: Benjamin Sheen

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Sunday, May 22, 2016
5:15 pm Saint Thomas Church

Benjamin Sheen, Acting Director of Music at Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue.

The Saint Thomas Organ Recital Series is free and open to the public. Usually starting very close to 5:15pm, it follows the 4pm service on most Sundays from September through May. The use of cameras and recording devices is strictly prohibited during the performance.

Today's recital is by Benjamin Sheen, Acting Director of Music at Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, of New York City, NY.

The program will include a set of three pieces by previous Directors of Music of Saint Thomas Church; Gerre Hancock, T. Tertius Noble and Frederick Candlyn. It will also include excerpts from Charles-Marie Widor’s 5th symphony – one of his most well-known, ending with the famous ‘Toccata’ and also a new work for organ solo by the British composer Jonathan Dove. The recital will be a final chance to hear the glorious sounds of the Arents Memorial organ before it is removed in mid-June and will include works performed in the dedicatory recital (given by William Self) on November 19th, 1956.

We are delighted that members of the Arents family will be attending this recital.

Program

Prelude and Fugue in B major, Op. 7, no. 1, Marcel Dupré (1886-1971)

Three pieces by previous Organists and Directors of Music at Saint Thomas Church

  • *Chorale Prelude on ‘Picardy’, T. Tertius Noble (1867-1953)
  • Chorale Prelude on ‘Rockingham’ Frederick Candlyn (1892-1964)
  • Variations on ‘Ora Labora’ Gerre Hancock (1934-2012)

*Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein, BWV 541 Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

The Dancing Pipes (2014) Jonathan Dove (b. 1959)

from Symphonie no. 5 in F minor, Op. 42, no. 1: Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937)

  • Allegro vivace
  • Adagio
  • Toccata

Tonight’s recital is a chance to showcase the Arents Memorial Organ one final time. This organ is famed for its blazing reed and bright mixture stops, which suits the music of the French romantic period perfectly. The recital is bookended by two great French works; Dupré’s virtuosic Prelude and Fugue in B major, filled with relentless rhythmical vigour in the prelude and jagged, syncopated figures in the fugue and, to close the program, three movements of Widor’s Symphonie no. 5 (the first, fourth and fifth movements). The opening movement is a playful set of variations making use of the full spectrum of sound and color on this organ; the Adagio is a simple yet beautiful movement using the string stops of the organ and provides a moment of calm before the famous ‘Toccata’ movement that closes the symphony – a fitting end to the life of this organ.

It is with great pleasure that I include three works composed by musicians from Saint Thomas’ past. T. Tertius Noble composed a great number of organ works (not heard too often today) and it is particularly poignant to perform his chorale prelude on ‘Picardy’ which was heard in the inaugural recital performed by Mr. William Self on November 19th, 1956. Frederick Candlyn’s short prelude on ‘Rockingham’ is a gentle reflection on the Passiontide text of the hymn and uses sumptuous harmonies and a beautiful canon of the melody towards the end. Gerre Hancock’s wonderful set of Variations on ‘Ora Labora’ (a hymn melody composed by T. Tertius Noble and is the official hymn of the Saint Thomas Choir School) closes this set of three pieces with its dynamic and rhythmic variety and intrinsic playfulness that Gerre Hancock was so renowned for in his improvisation particularly.

Two of J. S. Bach’s Orgelbüchlein chorales featured on Mr. Self’s program in the dedicatory recital in 1956; Wachet auf, ruft uns Stimme, BWV 645 and the chorale I have chosen to include tonight – W..>>>>>, BWV 641. This is perhaps one of Bach’s most exquisite examples of this genre – a beautiful ornamented chorale line with a slow-moving, understated accompaniment in the key of G.

Tonight’s program reflects on the past, both in musical terms and in the legacy of St. Thomas and the life of this wonderful organ. However, I thought it fitting to include this new organ work by the British composer Jonathan Dove on this program, appropriately named ‘The Dancing Pipes’ – a nice way to remember the Arents Organ. This piece was written as a commission in 2014 by St. Lawrence’s Church in Ludlow, England and was performed by one of my former organ professors, Thomas Trotter. Drawing influence from the music of Philip Glass and John Adams primarily, this minimalistic work is full of sparkle and intrigue with its pulsing rhythms and ever-changing meter. Those who know the music of Jonathan Dove will recognize moments from his ‘Missa Brevis’ and other choral anthems, particularly in his choice of harmony. I have always thought that Jonathan Dove should write a work for solo organ (because I think his style of music fits the instrument very well) and so tonight it is with great delight I present this work for you. This is one of the first performances in this country as the piece was performed exclusively by Thomas Trotter for the first year after it was composed, which makes tonight’s performance even more special.

It is with a heavy heart that we say farewell to our beloved Arents Memorial Organ but we will have our wonderful memories for both listener and performer on this great organ. I am delighted that we have been joined this evening by members of the Arents Family for this final performance to hear this great organ in its last public recital.

Contact:
Benjamin Sheen, Assistant Organist of Saint Thomas Church
bsheen@SaintThomasChurch.org

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