Dallas — For the Lay Family Organ's 25th anniversary, French organist Michel Bouvard played an elegant recital as part of the Opus 100 concert series. Bouvard was born in Lyons in 1958 unto a musical family. His grandfather was a well-known organist. He came to international notice in 1983 when he won the Toulouse International Organ Competition.
The Lay Family Organ is a superlative instrument that is shamefully ignored. Occasionally, very occasionally, the Dallas Symphony uses it for something like the finale of Saint-Saëns wondrous organ symphony. Until this recital series launched, its huge façade of pipes mostly served as a dramatic background for the Meyerson Symphony Center.
Attendance at Bouvard’s concert was meager. This has to be the fault of marketing because similar recital series in other cities are quite well attended. Perhaps it is the victim of its relationship to religious houses of worship that is a turn off and people are unfamiliar with its secular repertoire, which is vast. Maybe it is just a Dallas thing. Whatever the reason, perusing the hall anyone can see that more selling needs to take place. It would be an error if the series were to be cancelled because of ticket sales. What is needed is an aggressive marketing campaign and more organ events, even (gasp) free ones featuring some of the internationally admired organists who live in the Metroplex.
Because I was double scheduled on Sunday, I was only able to attend the second half of the recital. (I was at The Lone Star Wind Symphony during the first half and you can find my review of that concert here.)
I was sorry to miss the first half because it contained a few of my favorite organ selections, such as Franck’s Grande pièce symphonique, Op. 17.
However, there are no complaints about what I did hear. The second half opened with the slow movement of Widor’s Symphony No. 9, “The Gothic,” and a major work by Messiaen, his four-movement work, L’Ascension. He closed with some variations by Jean Bouvard on Noël basque.
L’Ascension started out as a piece for orchestra and was written in 1932-33, One year later, he arranged it for organ, which was his instrument. This is a relatively youthful piece, if any of his music can be called “youthful,” because he was in his early 20’s when he wrote it.
Like most of his music, this piece is about the mysteries of the Catholic Church and is musically complex. In fact, various harmonies created colors for him, a condition known as synesthesia (one sense stimulating another). The four movements are:
- Majesté du Christ demandant sa gloire à son Père (Majesty of Christ demanding its glory of the Father)
- Alléluias sereins d’une âme qui désire le ciel (Serene alleluias of a soul longing for heaven)
- Transports de joie d’une âme devant la gloire du Christ qui est la sienna (Outbursts of joy from a soul before the glory of Christ which is its own glory)
- Prière du Christ montant vers son Père (Prayer of Christ ascending towards His Father)
He demonstrated perfect technique without being show-offy. However, the hallmark of his performance was its remarkable transparency. This clarity was particularly due to his creative registration, but the clarity of this performance technically also was noticeable.
Registration is the process of choosing the stops, or ranks of pipes, to color the sound of the piece. The Lay Family Organ has 84 such sound families (different types of strings, flutes, and reeds, using 4,535 different pipes that range from 1” to 32’). The choices are nearly infinite and Bouvard’s choices were all inspired. If you think that organ music sounds like, well, organ music, you should have heard Bouvard’s inspired choices for the Messiaen. Taking his cue from the original orchestral version, as well as the composer’s detailed suggestions, the Lay Family Organ sounded more like the Lay Family Orchestra.
Can we have some more organ concerts? Pleeeze?