Saint Joseph’s Oratory: 100th Anniversary of its Crypt and Organ


On November 21, in conjunction with the Montreal Bach Festival, Saint Joseph’s Oratory will present a concert of Arvo Pärt’s Passion for Saint John to mark the 100th anniversary of its crypt and Casavant organ opus 708, with the participation of the choir and instrumental ensemble of St. Andrew and St. Paul’s Church, conducted by Jean-Sébastien Vallée, Vincent Boucher on organ and Gilles Cantagrel as a host. They will also perform Handel’s Organ Concerto in B flat major op. 4 no 2 and J S Bach’s Toccata and fugue in D minor.

“This Montreal premiere of Pärt’s Passion will, in a way, be a return to the past, to pay homage to all that has been achieved at Saint Joseph’s Oratory,” says Boucher. This great admirer of Arvo Pärt, the contemporary ­composer most currently played around the world, is full of praise for the quality of the writing of the still active ­composer, which he describes as “very sober and beautiful.” Boucher, winner of the 2002 Prix d’Europe and the 2003 Opus ­Discovery of the Year award, emphasizes that the crypt’s characteristic acoustics allows for more introspective music to be played, as in the case of the Arvo Pärt piece, with which “we enter a kind of spiritual trance full of bliss.”

The organ and the crypt

Vincent Boucher, who was organist at Sainte-Cécile cathedral in Valleyfield from 1996 to 2000, and now the Oratory’s ­principal ­organist, says that the organ in the crypt is “a bit like the Champlain Bridge,” ­referring to its old age, “and we are thinking of replacing it soon.” The organ was built in 1917 by ­Casavant and Frères, and originally consisted of two keyboards and a pedal and had 19 pipes. A restoration was carried out in 1962 allowing the addition of sixteen new pipes and a third keyboard. Then in 1989, the ­instrument was ­completely ­renovated. A pipe was added, the console was equipped with a new ­computerized ­system and the blower as well as leathers and other worn parts were changed.

The crypt of the oratory, with a capacity of 1,000 seated, was built in 1916 and ­inaugurated in December 1917. At that time, this was the first stage of the major project ­culminating in the construction of the basilica on the mountainside. The building is neoclassical with a dominant “Italian ­Renaissance” style. The church is called the crypt because of its vault supported by low arches and its position at the foot of the basilica.

Translated by Adrian Rodriguez

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