The CIOC Pulls Out All the Stops for the Grand Organ Festival

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“A city where you couldn’t throw a brick without breaking a church window,” the American humourist Mark Twain once called Montreal. From Sept. 8 to Nov. 1 – but especially in early October – you might stand a chance of hitting an organist instead, as the 2019 Grand Organ Festival unfolds under the auspices of the Canadian International Organ Competition.

The official opening is an open-console Sunday afternoon at the mighty von Beckerath of St. Joseph’s Oratory. This opportunity to inspect the workings of this impressive tracker instrument should appeal to kids of all ages. There are also family-friendly events on Sept. 28 (including “There’s an ogre in the organ”) as well as the first of two recitals by former CIOC finalist Mária Budáčová, one at the Église du Gesù and the next (on Sept. 29) at Notre-Dame-du-Bon-Secours. Bach, Brahms, Reger and Vierne are the featured composers.

Much repertoire will be heard, on many instruments. A series of six afternoon recitals at the Oratory starts on Sept. 15 with the curious offering of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony as transcribed and performed by the British organist David Briggs. On Fridays in October at 1 p.m., you can hear young CIOC stars Christian Lane, Sebastian Heindl, Nicholas Capozzoli as well as the McGill veteran Hans-Ola Ericsson at Christ Church Cathedral. Heindl, who was schooled at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, also turns up as a recitalist at the affiliated Festival des couleurs de l’orgue français on Oct. 13 at the Chapelle du Grand Séminaire de Montréal.

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On October 20, this atmospheric space on Sherbrooke Street will be the site of Rome: Babylon, an evening dedicated to the dubious glory of the Borgia court. The good news about the less-than-spotless papacy of Alexandre VI was the presence of Josquin des Prez in the Sistine Chapel choir. Since this event is officially a dissertation by McGill conducting student Adam Will Begley, this concert of Renaissance music is free (but watch your back).

The French court is the implied subject matter of Music for the Royal Chapel, a duo recital by French organist Jean-Baptiste Robin and trumpeter Romain Leleu on Oct. 3 at the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul. On the following evening the festival reaches a climax with a gala concert honouring John Grew, the founding artistic director of the CIOC. Former winners Alcee Chriss III (2017) and Christian Lane (2011) will blast off in the resonant Gésu. Chriss promises Duruflé, Boely and Elgar; Lane brings Widor, Guilmant and a new piece commissioned from Grew’s fellow ex-McGill prof, Bruce Mather. A giant screen adds to the fun.

Grew himself will join three organists on Oct. 19 in Mountainside United Church for a tribute to that landmark von Beckerath instrument. That same date, the Très-Saint-Nom-de Jésus Church is the site of an unusual program of mostly Canadian works for two organists (by Cabena, Laurin, McCune, Hakim, Callahan, and Bédard) featuring the Duo Majoya.

No Montreal organ fest would be complete without a concert or two involving the Grand Orgue Pierre-Béique in the Maison symphonique. The Orchestre classique de Montréal obliges on Oct. 6 with an afternoon program in which Chriss and CIOC artistic director Jean-Willy Kunz perform Poulenc’s Organ Concerto (Chriss) and Handel’s Organ Concerto No. 4 (Kunz). Boris Brott conducts. Cantor Gideon Zelermyer and the Shaar Hashomayim Choir under and Roï Azoulay sing high holiday repertoire, as the concert falls between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Russian Orthodox liturgy is the basis of a free performance of Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil on Oct. 26 at the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul. The young groups One Equall Musick and Earth World offer, respectively, baroque and environmental music on Oct. 5 at the Church of Saint-Léon-de-Westmount. On the same afternoon there is a screening in the Cinémathèque québécoise of Pipe Dreams, Stacey Tenenbaum’s documentary about the 2017 CIOC, which will hold your interest even if you already know the winner.

Another film worth seeing is the classic 1925 silent version of The Phantom of the Opera, which will be screened on Nov. 1 in the Maison symphonique with the U.S.-based British organist James Kennerley improvising the accompaniment. This OSM presentation brings the count up to a total of 32 festival events. Scary!

For information on the 2019 Grand Organ Festival, go to www.ciocm.org.

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About Author

Arthur Kaptainis has been a classical music critic since 1986. His articles have appeared in Classical Voice North America and La Scena Musicale as well as Musical Toronto. Arthur holds an MA in musicology from the University of Toronto.

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