The Toledo Chapter of the American Guild of Organists will pipe in its 2006-2007 season tomorrow with a public concert featuring Yale University organist Thomas Murray on the Toledo Museum of Art's historic Skinner organ. Music is to begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Peristyle.
"Ernest Skinner was one of the greatest organ builders of the 20th century," Murray said last week from his Connecticut home. "Many of his instruments are still being played, but the thing that makes the Peristyle organ so important is that it hasn't been altered."
Murray, a Yale professor, specializes in romantic organ literature and performs regularly on Yale's own Skinner in Woolsey Hall. This will not be his first performance on the Toledo museum's instrument. He recorded an album here in June, 2005, for the JAV label.
"We hope the recording will be released in time for the concert next week," Murray said. His program tomorrow will include Mozart's Fantasia in F minor, K. 594, also on the recording.
Since April 22, 2005, the organ's monumental voice has been filling the classic hall once again. Its rich tone and varied colors remind listeners today of the vision and generosity of the Libbey family, who donated funds for the organ in 1926.
Installed in the Hemicycle, the museum's original auditorium, this instrument, Opus 603, was to be Skinner's largest roll-player organ. Its four manuals and pedals control 48 ranks and 3,201 pipes. "In my view, he was the culmination of the movement to make the organ more versatile and offer more orchestral expressivity," Murray said.
In 1933, when the Peristyle replaced the Hemicycle, the organ was moved there. But, after several decades of use, the Skinner began to deteriorate. By the late 1970s, its voice was stilled.
As the museum prepared for its second century, a campaign was launched to restore the instrument. Among major supporters of the huge project was the Toledo Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, which sponsored a fund-raising concert on Rosary Cathedral's Skinner instrument. In 2003, the A. Thompson-Allen Co. of New Haven, Conn., was hired to carry out the project. The company worked with Toledo museum curator Suzanne Hargrove and plant manager Paul Bernard.
Murray is the most illustrious organist to perform on the organ to date. A California native, he studied with Clarence Mader and, as a young performer took first place in the AGO national competition. He has performed to acclaim around the world. The guild named him International Artist of the Year in 1986; in 2005, Yale awarded him the Gustave Stoeckel Award for excellence in teaching.
His program will feature works best suited to the Skinner's capabilities and to the narrative theme of the Toledo museum's performance season. Among the major pieces will be Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite, inspired by the Ibsen play, and Edward Elgar's Severn Suite. Grieg's evocative work was written first for orchestra, then transcribed for organ. Elgar's work first was performed by a brass choir, then an orchestra. Murray transcribed this work for organ.
This special evening is dedicated to the memory of Joyce Smar, who died Aug. 21 at her home in Northampton, Mass. Before moving to the position of programming director for the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Smar was manager of performing arts at the Toledo museum. She was an early and outspoken proponent of the organ restoration project.
The Toledo Chapter of the American Guild of Organists will present organist Thomas Murray in a recital at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow on the restored 1926 E.M. Skinner Organ in the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle, 2445 Monroe St. Tickets, $10, are available at the door. Information: 419-246-8000.
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