Concert Blog: Cameron Carpenter and the International Touring Organ

Carpenter, Cameron_cr Thomas Grube_webSometimes in music it really matters that everything is connected in a deep way, in that the pieces are organic so that what comes out of one parameter infests the other and it becomes a unified object.

Sunday afternoon at  Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts, organist Cameron Carpenter, the 35-year-old superstar, who combines a punkish character (with his spiky mohawk and sparkly shoes) with monumental skills and an excellent way of connecting with the audience,  debuted on his International Touring Organ, made by Marshall & Ogletree, organ builders in Needham, Mass., who as Carpenter has stated, are redefining the digital organ as an instrument of artistic significance. He shared with us an awe inspiring performance of his own transcription of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 23.

The International Touring Organ is atypical, when one thinks of a digital instrument in that it is not compact at all. Upon entering the hall the audience saw on the rear of the stage a row of nine cabinet-like boxes, each with four vertical speakers. Behind that row were four large additional speakers.

The organ, being digital, has pedals that can also play in any musical register, and it was absolutely amazing to watch Carpenter’s glittery feet dance on the pedals with such musicality and coordination with his hands sometimes playing simultaneously.

The digital organ cannot quite produce the same character and depth in a line as the piano, but the transcription was quite convincing as a whole.

Carpenter received a standing ovation and played “The Stars and Stripes Forever” as an encore.

The second half opened with Maestro Honeck and the orchestra playing Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 in E minor, which was composed in the early months following the death of the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. The score in many ways reflects this era. The symphony is one of the composer’s greatest works. The fusion of drama, irony and nationalism that Shostakovich so masterfully blended is front and center in the 10th Symphony.

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