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From Bach to the Future! Pacific Symphony Welcomes Organist Monte Maxwell to Perform on the Magnificent William J. Gillespie Concert Organ for Afternoon of Favorites
Orange County, Calif. — April 13, 2017
Hear the mighty, one-of-a-kind William J. Gillespie organ in all its acoustic wonder, when outstanding virtuoso Monte Maxwell performs an eclectic program of organ favorites including something for everyone during Pacific Symphony’s final “Pedals and Pipes” concert this season. The renowned organist—who plays for the U.S. Naval Academy’s Chapel and has performed for diplomats and national leaders from around the world—travels to Orange County for this showcase of the organ’s stunning palette of sounds, often adding his own twist to classic arrangements. The afternoon recital includes the very best of organ music—from Wagner to Bach, Widor to Bizet, Vierne to Yon and far beyond! The concert takes place Sunday, April 30, at 3 p.m. in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Tickets are $10-$50. For more information or to purchase tickets call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.
The thrilling evening includes two works from Wagner operas—Fanfares from “Parsifal,” the composer’s final and most uncompromising opera, and his enchanting “To the Evening Star” from “Tannhäuser.” From there, the recital travels many directions, from Bizet’s saucy Suite from “Carmen,” to Bach’s ambitiously harmonic “Fantasy and Fugue” in G Minor; Yon’s swift and playful “Humoresque L’organo Primitivo”; Widor’s gentle and perhaps best-known work, “Andante Cantabile” from Organ Symphony No. 4; Sousa’s rousing “Stars and Stripes Forever”; Maxwell’s patriotic “A Military Salute”; Russell’s atmospheric and dramatic musical picture, “The Bells of St. Anne de Beaupré” from “St. Lawrence Sketches”; living composer Williams’ light-hearted “Major Something, Non Fat Latte!”; plus, Vierne’s Finale from Symphony No. 6, with it’s complex, large-scale score.
“This is a very eclectic program, indeed,” concedes Maxwell. “After many years of performing for audiences, I have come to appreciate the fact that many different types of music speak to many different types of people. Everyone is coming from such a variety of backgrounds and musical exposure that I believe it’s important to offer a diverse and interesting program.”
Organ music has at times been overshadowed by ignorance and gained a reputation of being either melodramatic or even boring, while in fact the organ has a very long history and its current repertoire spans a period of more than 400 years. Many find it’s awe-inspiring capabilities thrilling. Certainly Johann Sebastian Bach is the most famous composer for the organ, but there are many others from the same period in Germany as well as France, and there are modern composers writing for the organ today—such as the British-born Carol Williams, whose work is featured during the Symphony’s recital. Many great composers over the centuries have contributed to a wealth of literature including Pachelbel, Bach, Handel, Mozart, Lizst, Reger, as well as Couperin, Franck, Vierne, Widor, Dupré, Langlais and Messiaen—to name some of the better known.
“As an organist,” Maxwell says, “I have witnessed too many programs that were seemingly too heavy and filled with one large work after another, so much that the listener’s ear becomes overwhelmed, and in the end, the overall experience loses musical and aural satisfaction. And, in recent years, attendance at many organ concerts has declined, and I believe it is in part due to a lack of thoughtful and creative programming. I hope that this audience will take away a melody in their ears and will have had a refreshing musical experience!”
As his two hands and two feet work rigorously across the keyboards, expression pedals and the full pedal board, expect to be stunned by this organ marvel as he sets about pulling and pushing stops and flipping couplers, delivering the might and majesty of the four-story high concert organ for all its worth. High trills, steady pedal tones, ascending and descending melodic riff, it’s a visual as well as an aural treat. Additionally, Maxwell, in his Pacific Symphony debut, will be making innumerable decisions on how to present each work, utilizing the full array of options of this particular organ, delivering a sound unique to Maxwell’s interpretations of the music and mechanics of the instrument.
“Obviously, all musicians have their personal favorite pieces to perform. I have many!” exclaims Maxwell. “I love the 19th-20th century French school of organ playing, so Widor and Vierne are personal composer favorites. I do enjoy transcriptions from other idioms as well; hence, the Sousa and Wagner works. I also really like to explore and try to utilize as many colors in the organ as I can, which also drives me to play a variety of music and musical styles.”
Maxwell, who will be playing the Fisk organ located in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall for the first time, adds that he is “looking forward to taking the resources of the instrument and offering a musical soufflé of sorts, if you like! There’s a lot of organ music out there, as the instrument and its history have dictated that. I know that our westernized and contemporary ears don’t hear things in the same way that listeners did hundreds of years ago. Some of the older music doesn’t translate well to our current listeners. This is why I try to give lots of thought into what I play and how I present it. We as organists have a great opportunity to share beautiful music from a variety of styles and periods with people. We just need to do it with creativity, imagination and sincerity.”
Maxwell began playing the piano when he was 9 years old. “I fell in love with the organ around that same time, once I saw and heard a pipe organ in my home church in San Angelo, Texas. I decided then that I wanted to learn to play the organ and knew by my early teenage years that I wanted to share organ music with people on a regular basis and as a lifetime career. I loved it then and I still love it!”
After earning his Bachelor of Music from Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Maxwell was invited to study at the Curtis Institute of Music where he received an artist diploma, and he went on to earn his Masters of Music from The Juilliard School of Music. While studying in Philadelphia, Maxwell was an associate organist at the John Wanamaker Store, playing the famed six-manual organ, the largest playing organ in the world. At the Naval Academy, Maxwell serves as principal organist for the Protestant and Catholic services and other performances. He also works with the Chapel Choirs, Chorale, the Men’s and Women’s Glee Clubs, and conducts the annual winter musical theater productions and the Naval Academy Midshipmen Symphony Orchestra; he also oversees the Chapel Organ Concert series.
“It’s exciting and humbling to perform for leaders at very high levels,” he says. “I am grateful for the opportunity to play for so many people in such a wide variety of circumstances. In the end though, my ultimate goal is to share beautiful and meaningful music with people and hopefully there will be something that will touch them and leave them better than they were before they listened and heard the music.”
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