Ross Wood is the perfect person to be playing the Duruflé Requiem on Old South Church’s notable organ next Sunday afternoon.
Wood has played in Duruflé ‘s own church in Paris — St. Étienne-du-Mont, where the composer was organist from 1929 until his death in 1982. Wood also took master classes with Monsieur and Madame Duruflé in Tulsa, Oklahoma (“of all places!”) in 1971. At the Boston Avenue Methodist Church, he wants us to know.
He thinks the Old South Church’s organ is just right for the piece. “It is orchestral and romantic in concept, and has one stop [the 32-foot Contre Bombarde] that practically lowers the water table in Back Bay!”
Old South’s Ernest M. Skinner Opus 308 organ is Boston’s loudest and most sumptuous and immersive instrument. Designed in the once-disgraced symphonic style in an era in which civic organs substituted for orchestras and high-fi sets, it was saved at the last minute when its original home, The Ordway Civic Theater in St. Paul Minnesota was about to be demolished in 1985. It is the second large E. M. Skinner organ to be housed in New Old South Church. The original instrument, Skinner opus 231, fell victim to changing tastes and was replaced in the 1960s by a Reuter Baroque-style tracker. That organ after only twenty years fell out of favor, and in a charmingly and expensively symmetrical act was replaced by a Skinner similar to the one so unceremoniously rejected.
Now speaking from decorative chambers in the four corners of the sanctuary, opus 308 consists of 6,950 pipes, 89 registers and 115 ranks. Its stop list can be seen here.
The organ was silenced last year after an MBTA construction accident on December 2, 2008 caused a 60-foot crack to appear from the foundation in the basement to the roof line. There was serious anxiety that the organ’s piping would bring the walls down.
Duruflé began what turned out as a requiem as an organ piece based on Gregorian chant, but changed it to a requiem after the death of his father. Patterned on the Fauré Requiem, there is no “Dies Irae” section. It is there, Wood notes, but only a bit.
“It is more about comforting the living than scaring the Hell out of [listeners],” Wood contends.
Duruflé wrote three versions of the requiem — for organ alone, for organ and string, and for orchestra. This version is for organ.
“I first heard it as a Junior High School student and fell in love with it,” Wood said. Currently Associate Organist and Choirmaster at Church of the Advent on Beacon Hill, Wood received his doctorate in organ from Eastman School of Music in the studio of Russell Saunders. While an undergraduate at Southern Methodist University, studying with Robert Anderson, he was a finalist in the national playing competition sponsored by the American Guild of Organists. From 1985 to 2001 he served as Associate Organist at Trinity Church, Copley Square.
The choral component is by Chorus Pro Musica, which is presenting the concert.
Also on the program are Zoltán Kodály: Laudes Organi and a Brahms motet, “Lass dich nur nichts nicht dauren” (Let nothing ever grieve thee).
The concert is at 3 pm on Sunday, November 8th. For information see www.choruspromusica.org.
See related review here.