The 22nd Annual Candlelight Christmas Concert takes place this Sunday, December 15th at Mission Dolores Basilica. An always popular event, the excellence of the Basilica Choir and the welcoming ambiance within the sanctuary is sure to raise the tone on this winter’s chill.
“The featured work is the Navidad Nuestra by Ariel Ramirez,” said music director and organist Jerome Lenk. “It’s a piece based on Argentinian folk songs and rhythms. The guest soloist is Jimmy Kansau, the vocal director of the San Francisco Boys Chorus. The rest of the program will be a balance of some a cappella motets, Baroque pieces for a double choir – the second choir being a brass quartet. The concert will end with our ever popular sing-along of familiar carols. This will be the first time we’re performing the Navidad Nuestra. In a way, it’s a little lighter fare for us. Generally, the big work I do is more classically based, but this will be a nice balance for the program.”
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Jerry reminded me that the instrument at Mission Dolores Basilica is not a pipe organ. “It is a digital organ. A lot of people don’t realize that when they come in. It’s one of the most sophisticated digital organs around. We’ve spent a lot of time refining it so that it really sounds as authentic as possible. I started the Second Sunday Organ Recital Series last fall. Every organist who has come in has been thrilled to play here and pleasantly surprised at how really fine the organ is. And the acoustical space is grand.”
“When did the instrument get its last up-date?”
“In 2009 when we upgraded the computer and re-vamped the speaker end of the audio systems. They now process the digital information more efficiently and we get much purer resolution. The change has made a dramatic difference. It brought the organ into its own as a legitimate instrument for traditional organ music.”
On Monday, December 16th, Mr. Lenk will be participating in a benefit concert at the Castro Theatre. He will be joining the theatre’s resident organist, David Hegarty along with Benjamin Bachmann (Canon Director of Music, Grace Cathedral), David Hatt (assistant cathedral organist, St. Mary’s Cathedral), and rising young star, Nahri Ahn. The funds raised will go towards rescuing and enhancing the theatre’s world famous Wurlitzer.
“We have to really thank David Hegarty who is spearheading the campaign to preserve and expand the instrument and save it for future generations in that glorious Art Deco theatre. It’s wonderful that he’s asked us to participate in this kick-off fundraiser evening. It will be a wide variety of music to show off the organ and on a bit different side than what I’m used to doing. I’ll be playing a transcription of the Rimsky-Korsakov Procession of the Nobles.”
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Given that the Wurlitzer is technically a theatre organ, I asked Jerry if the piece brings out something in his technique that wouldn’t otherwise be employed at Mission Dolores Basilica.
“Yes, because theatre organs are much more orchestrally-based in their design. Traditional church organs aren’t necessarily such, although the organ at the Basilica is a much more flexible instrument in that regard. It enables me to do bigger orchestral transcriptions as well as the traditional music written specifically for the organ because it is a much more versatile instrument. Organs such as the one at Grace Cathedral or the large Skinner at Temple Emanu-El are capable of handling all those varieties of repertoire. A theatre organ is set up differently than a classical organ. Each has multiple keyboards, but one division is set up for accompaniment and another is more for solos. Then there is an effect on the theatre organ called Double Touch. If you press the key half-way you get one set of sounds, but with a heavier touch you get a second set of heavier reed sounds. It lets the theatre organist get a punch in the music. It’s a way to get multiple registrations with limited resources. But it does take some getting-used to because it’s not the thing that classical organists are accustomed to doing.”
“How often do you get these chances to do something out of the ordinary?”
“The Sunday before Thanksgiving, I accompanied the Symphony and Opera Choruses in the Verdi Requiem on the organ at Christ the Light Cathedral in Oakland. It was a benefit concert for the Philippines. To do a complete orchestral transcription for the organ of the Verdi Requiem was quite out of the ordinary. I had a week-and-a-half to put that together. That’s quite a ways from what I’m accustomed to doing at the Basilica. But I have an extensive opera background and I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of translating opera scores / orchestral scores to the keyboard. The Requiem was a fun challenge and I enjoyed it immensely.”
Click here for more information: Castro Organ Devotees Association