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Philadelphia Organ Festival

First Presbyterian Church (Germantown), Philadelphia, PA— I only found out about the Philadelphia Organ Festival the day before it started, and I’m so glad I did. I wish I could have attended more events, but if I could only make it to one, this one, “The Organ’s Modern Touch: Minimalism and Contemporary Works” was at the top of my list.

This festival being devoted to the organ, video screens were set up at either side of the sanctuary, one showing the organist’s hands, and the other showing her feet. A nice touch, and one I especially appreciated after my last adventure in pipe organ minimalism sent me down a rabbit hole learning about the instrument.

The centerpiece for this program, Steve Reich’s “Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices, and Organ,” is a piece I’ve heard a zillion times, but nothing could prepare me for how it would sound live; two speakers can’t do justice to how the composition makes the instruments and voices converse in space. And seeing this piece performed with an actual pipe organ—reportedly the largest one in Philadelphia—is apparently a very rare treat, even if the organ couldn’t command the same spotlight it did in the evening’s earlier pieces.

Reich’s music, as with most minimalism, isn’t something I tend to have an emotional reaction to, but from the second it started, this performance had my insides aflutter. Despite the lack of formal similarities, I was reminded of how My Bloody Valentine rearranged my molecules awhile back when they closed out the night with their trademark hyperextension of the white noise break in “You Made Me Realise.” It left me speechless, and confused by how the people around me seemed to immediately revert to business as usual, shuffling out to the subway, returning to their lives. Had they not been fundamentally changed by what we just experienced?

Tonight left me with a similar feeling.

Music, man. It’s got the goods.

  • Organ: 1919 Austin
  • Organist: Amanda Mole
  • Percussionists: Harvey Price, Barry Dove, Bill Wozniak, Emily Roane, Jerry Tenenbaum, Travis Goffredo, Kevin Blanke
  • Singers from The Crossing: Rebecca Siler, Anika Kildegaard, Elisa Sutherland
  • Vocal rehearsal leader: Kevin Vondrak
  • Music coordinator: Susan Lerner
  1. Mytò (Ad Wammes)
  2. Pari intervallo (Arvo Pärt)
  3. The Reverend Mustard His Installation Prelude (Nico Muhly)
  4. Annum per annum (Arvo Pärt)
  5. Erbarm’ dich mein, o Herr Gott, BWV 721 (Johann Sebastian Bach)
  6. Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices, and Organ (Steve Reich)