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Kali Malone with Stephen O’Malley

First Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, PA— This show was my first visit to the First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia, and I was immediately struck by the building’s gold brick interior, which I don’t think I’d ever seen in a church nave before:

The interior is buff-colored brick and sandstone and the pews are black walnut, exemplifying [Augustus] Sims’ architectural philosophy of honesty in building materials, eschewing plaster throughout. Stone carvings both inside and out were done by Alexander Milne Calder, among them representations of the leading agricultural products of the 1870s, including corn, wheat, grapes, cotton, tobacco, and sugar.

Sadly, I didn’t notice the Calder carvings this time, but I’m glad to know of yet another impression he made on the city.

The visit prompted me to learn more about how pipe organs work, which in retrospect should have been an obvious source of fascination for me (and now I know where the phrase “pull out all the stops” comes from!). When this church was built in the early 1870s, its organ, with 44 stops and 2,880 pipes, came at a cost of $13,000 (about $320,000 today). After many revisions over 150 years, it’s unclear how much of the original instrument remains, but today’s version certainly looks and sounds grand.

Kali Malone performed The Sacrificial Code, accompanied by SunnO)))’s Stephen O’Malley on its four-handed pieces. Each piece’s final chord extended into a drone for a minute or more, and focusing on their resonances’ subtle fluctuations as they moved through the pipes made for my favorite moments of the evening, especially the performance’s dissonant closing chord, whose tension was undiminished as it fell away piece by piece until it faded to nothing. Stunning stuff.

Kali sold out two shows here, and I hope that means we’ll see more of this sort of thing in Philly. I’d love to see Anna von Hausswolff take a crack at that organ.