Thursday, July 2, 2009

Happy centenary

This year marks the centenary of the Royal Canadian College of Organists, and this week saw organists from all around the world converge on Toronto for the celebratory International Organ Festival. Your humble servant infiltrated the convention for most of its duration (responsibilities elsewhere preventing us from attending all of the events) and is pleased to put the TBWCTW seal of approval on this year's convention: it was superb. I was delighted to attend an event so well organized, with so many things to do, and with such high-quality performers, venues, and discussions. A few of the highlights:
  • Thierry Escaich's recital at St. Paul's, combining masterly performances of the standard French recital with his own compositions and an extended improvisation,
  • A performance by Rachel Laurin consisting entirely of preludes and fugues, all but two of which were by contemporary Canadian composers - and it worked!
  • The appearance of Parry's hymn tune "Rustington" at the annual College Service, which in a sane world would be in the standard repertoire,
  • A panel discussion on the future of the organ that avoided the extremes of both Chicken Little and Doctor Pangloss.
I was provided with much unintentional entertainment during the convention by a half-page glossy advertisement on the back of the convention brochure for an upcoming concert series by Cameron Carpenter. While I am essentially a Cameron Carpenter agnostic, holding the minority view that he is neither the saviour of the organ world nor a symptom of the imminent decline of Western culture, I'm convinced he needs a better publicist. The advertisement shows a publicity photo of the young Mr. Carpenter looking as though he has just suffered a major head injury: below, we read the following sentence.
Here is an iconoclastic organist and composer whose "masterly playing" has been described by The Wall Street Journal as "alternately dazzling and subtle, and always fired by profound musical intelligence."
Ummm. Why is "The" capitalized? Why is "masterly playing" in scare quotes? But what amuses me most is the use of the word "iconoclastic," which appears in every article ever written that references Carpenter. Anyone who's visited the medieval churches of England will have seen the wake of destruction left by iconoclasm: broken stained-glass windows, statues and wood carvings defaced with chisels, beautiful paintings and murals whitewashed. Organs, of course, were also prime targets for the iconoclasts, and the excesses of the Reformation and the English Civil War destroyed countless historic instruments throughout Britain. In other words, if the people assembling Carpenter's press kit had any idea what the word "iconoclastic" actually means - namely, a sort of destructive Puritanism - they would realize it shouldn't be used to describe an organist. (Perhaps these are the same people who described the work of feminist musicologist Susan McLary as "seminal".)

In any case, whenever I found myself bored between convention events, I could imagine all sorts of neo-Puritan dramas in my head: Cameron Carpenter leads a group of torch-wielding peasants into St. Bartholomew's and orders them to destroy all popish ornaments, finally melting down the organ pipes to make farming implements - or, better yet, a Cameron Carpenter recital is interrupted by Oliver Cromwell and/or Ulrich Zwingli, and the expressions of mounting horror on their faces as they realize he's not the sort of iconoclast they were expecting. . .

That's quite enough. Happy 100th birthday, RCCO!


Christine said...


David said...

I'm even more amazed that the quote came from the Wall Street Journal...I wasn't aware they had a music critic!