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James David Christie in Bach Birthday Celebration


Two Boston churches and four greater Boston music organizations — First Lutheran Church, Emmanuel Church and Emmanuel Music, the American Guild of Organists, the Boston’s Children’s Chorus, and Winsor Music —combined their forces to honor Johann Sebastian Bach’s 325th birthday all day long on Saturday, March 20. It must have been a splendid affair, but I could only catch James David Christie’s 45-minute recital at 5:30, the last of that afternoon’s several recitals on the Lutheran’s church’s superlative Richards, Fowlkes tracker organ.

Christie’s 45-minute recital was at his normal usual excellence. Although its title was “Organ Fireworks,” he chose to play several small pieces from the Neumeister chorales that were only discovered in the Yale library by Hans-Joachim Schulze and Christoff Wolff in the last major Bach birthday, the Tercentennial, in 1985. The chorale variations on “Sei gegrüsset,” “Jesu gütig” were interspersed among the Neumeister chorales.

Someone had the brilliant idea to establish a video camera at the left of the console that conveyed the organist’s every move to the audience on a screen to the front of the sanctuary. (Was that Jake Street I espied helping to pull stops and turn pages?) Christie’s final piece was Bach’s most famous organ piece, the Toccata and fugue in D Minor. He received a standing ovation.

The other organists in this all-day celebration were Bálint Karosi, Mark Dwyer, Nancy Granert, Jacob Street, Frank Corbin, Luca Massaglia, and Christian Lane.

Meanwhile, at Emmanuel Church there was a Bach master class, a discussion of Bach’s cantata Am Abend der desselbigen Sabbatas preceding a complete performance conducted by John Harbison and a reception. All in all, I can’t imagine a better way to celebrate this master.

Larry Phillips studied music at Harvard, the Montreal Conservatory, and at New England Conservatory. In 1974 he was a prizewinner at the International Harpsichord Competition in Bruges, Belgium.

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