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Pacific Symphony and Segerstrom Center for the Arts join forces to present edgy-cool, genre-defying organ virtuoso Cameron Carpenter in a one-time-only night of music
February 27, 2014
Pacific Symphony and Segerstrom Center for the Arts are coming together to present “a madly original organist whose programs careen across centuries of musical history and sashay deep into our popular culture (music writer Alex Ross in his book, The Rest is Noise)”—rock star of the pipe organ, Cameron Carpenter. Still only in his early 30s, Carpenter is creating quite a stir in the press: “Carpenter is one of the rare musicians who changes the game of his instrument,” wrote Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times. “He is a smasher of cultural and classical music taboos. He is technically the most accomplished organist I have ever witnessed… And, most important of all, the most musical.” The headline in the Wall Street Journal read:“Not Your Grandma’s Organist,” followed by this description of Carpenter: “Alternately dazzling and subtle, and always fired by a profound musical intelligence.” The maverick musician who is causing the music world to sit up and take notice is also the first organist ever nominated for a Grammy Award for a solo album. Perhaps The New York Times put it most succinctly when they simply called Carpenter “extravagantly talented.”
Carpenter performs on the one-of-a-kind William J. Gillespie Concert Organ, built from steel, tin, oak, poplar, maple, lead and carbon fiber, required three years and 42,000 hours of labor by a team of organ builders at C.B. Fisk and debuted in 2008. The concert takes place on Friday, April 4, at 8 p.m., in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall and is co-presented by Segerstrom Center for the Arts and Pacific Symphony as part of its Pedals and Pipes organ series. Tickets are $10-$59. For more information or to purchase tickets call the Symphony at (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org or at SCFTA.org, at the Center’s Box Office at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa or by calling (714) 556-2787. The TTY number is (714) 556-2746.
“The audience will be witnessing both a confrontation and, I hope, a resolution of what I see as a modern-day conflict in the art of playing an ancient instrument,” says Carpenter about his upcoming program. “It’s a great example of my belief that to be compelling, today’s classical performer has to have something at risk—some passionately held idea that drives the reason for existing. Without this, classical music is a cliché.” He adds: “I look forward to losing myself in the height of the moment—if I can do that, I'll be able to give my audience something worth having. I want to chase a feeling and track it down, hold it so we can examine it before we let it go. Never, never should a recital just be a running-through.”
Carpenter—who is sometimes called the “bad boy” of the organ world—is also hailed as a revolutionary in his field and the accomplishments are adding up. He received the Leonard Bernstein Award in 2012, and in 2013, he announced his multi-album contract signing with Sony Classical. A virtuoso composer-performer unique among keyboardists, Carpenter’s approach to his instrument is exploding the stereotypes of organists and organ music while generating a level of unprecedented acclaim, exposure and controversy. His repertoire—from the complete works of J.S. Bach and Cesar Franck, to his hundreds of transcriptions of non-organ music, his original compositions and his collaborations with jazz and pop artists—is perhaps the largest and most diverse of any organist.
“Edgy is relative!” says Carpenter when asked if the word describes him. “Almost anything might seem edgy against the thoroughgoing traditionalism of the organ world. But of course I do think it’s terribly important that this instrument have a truly secular voice, and I am that. I think it’s for my audience to describe me as a musician. In my way, I’m conservative—a kind of throwback to the musical traditions of the 19th century. That’s not out of nostalgia, but out of a sense that good performance uses the musical text as a starting point.”
Carpenter is on a roll. Last March, he launched his International Touring Organ (ITO) with two concerts at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, featuring music by Bach, Bernstein, Demessieux, Dupré, Scriabin, Vaughan Williams and many others, including the world-premiere of his “Music for an Imaginary Film” (2013). It also preceded by days the worldwide release last April 22 of his Sony Classical debut album, “If You Could Read My Mind.” The CD/DVD album features the organist playing the ITO in music by Scriabin, Bach, Dupré, Rachmaninoff, Piazzolla, Liszt and others; a cycle of paraphrases on songs by Gordon Lightfoot, Patsy Cline, Leonard Cohen, Burt Bacharach and Leslie Bricusse; and the world-premiere recording of Carpenter’s “Music for an Imaginary Film.”
“My playing has taken a radical turn this year as I reshape my entire repertoire around the International Touring Organ, my dream organ,” Carpenter says. “So in playing this (William J. Gillespie) organ, I’m confronted with how to take the genre-bending and limitless possibilities of that organ and translate them into the possibilities at Segerstrom.”
As a keyboard prodigy, Carpenter performed Bach’s “Well-tempered Clavier” at age 11 before joining the American Boychoir School in 1992 as a boy soprano. During his four years of high school studies at The North Carolina School of the Arts, he made his first studies in orchestra and orchestral composition and transcribed for the organ more than 100 major works, including Gustav Mahler’s complete Symphony No. 5. Carpenter continued composing after moving to New York City in 2000 to attend The Juilliard School. While there, he composed art songs; the symphonic poem “Child of Baghdad” (2003) for orchestra, chorus and Ondes Martenot; his first substantial works for solo organ; and numerous organ arrangements of piano works by Chopin, Godowsky, Grainger, Ives, Liszt, Medtner, Rachmaninoff, Schumann and others. Carpenter received a master’s degree from The Juiliard School in 2006.
The Symphony’s “Pedals and Pipes” organ series is sponsored by Valerie and Barry Hon.
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