Christian Lane, assistant organist and choirmaster at Harvard University (see a laudatory BMInt review here) and coordinator of last July’s Pipe Organ Encounters (covered by BMInt here and here) has won first prize at the 2011 Canadian International Organ Competition in Montreal. A triennial competition, and the only international organ competition in the Americas this year, the CIOC is dedicated to increasing public awareness and interest in organ music. It has also developed an annual program of musical and educational activities in collaboration with organizations of the organ world to emphasize the importance of pipe organs for a wide and diverse audience. The competition gathers young organists from all over the world. In the final round’s gala concert there were: first prize winner, Christian Lane, an American; second prize winner Jens Korndörfer, a German, and Jean-Willy Kunz, a Frenchman, winner of the audience prize; and the other finalists included a Swiss and a Russian. This international flavor attracted a 1500-strong audience to the Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal, to hear music by, among others, Liszt, Widor, Purcell, Handel, and Scarlatti, as well as a Procession by Jean François La Porte and excerpts from the Art of Fugue, played by the saxophone quartet Quatuor Quasar.
A winner of four competitions before his twenty-first birthday, and a graduate of both Eastman and Yale, Christian Lane was a semi-finalist in the last CIOC in 2008. At the time he decided not to bother doing more competitions, but this year he was tempted to return, partly, he says, because of the charm of Montreal. “I said to many folks,” as he tells BMInt, “that the greatest benefit of this is that I have a good excuse to return to Montreal regularly in the coming years.” But, more seriously, he says that the real reason behind his return to the CIOC is that “this competition stands out amidst all others in our profession: it is the best run, best organized competition I have ever participated in. The board of CIOC is committed to having the world’s premiere organ competition, and thus is willing to fund it appropriately.” Everyone, naturally enough, makes a fuss about the large cash prizes—first prize is $30,000, second $15,000, and third $10,000, but, as Christian pointed out, “the real integrity of this competition is the incredible level of funding that goes into the behind-the-scenes, no frills costs: having a strong media presence, connecting with the public, and hiring incredibly committed and able staff members, not only for the duration of the event itself, but to run an entire office year round.”
But above and beyond everything else, what Christian finds most inspiring is the exceptionally high level of playing amidst the sixteen competitors. “It was wonderful,” he says, “to meet colleagues from around the world, to hear them play, and to grow in this process together. I never feel as though I have played well enough to deserve an honor such as this, but it is both thrilling and exceptionally humbling to now have the opportunities afforded to the winner of this contest. I am very much looking forward to serving as ambassador for the CIOC in the coming years, and I can only hope I’ll represent them as well as I believe they deserve.”
When asked what plans he has for the organ in Boston, he says he dreams of ways of making Boston “more of the ‘organ town’ it has the potential to be.” And what way is he dreaming of now, he replied, “The establishment of a major biennial organ festival.” Knowing the city’s wealth of magnificent organs, we can only say—Christian, go for it!
Tamar Hestrin-Grader, a harpsichordist, received her A.B. in Music from Harvard.