For classical music and organ aficionados next weekend may be a fine time to visit Portland, Maine. The main event from BMInt’s perspective will be celebration of the centennial of the mammoth Kotzschmar Organ in Portland’s City Hall on August 17th through August 22nd. If that’s not enough, then there is also the Portland Chamber Music Festival which on the 18th will present the final concert in its summer series, including the C Major Viola Quintet of Mozart, Sebastian Currier’s Verge, and Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring.
In the days before the perfection of radio and the ubiquity of symphony orchestras and CDs, organ concerts were quite popular and names of organists were well known to ordinary households. Cities vied for the most powerful and sizable instruments as examples of civic pride. From the many dozens of such behemoths 100 or so years ago, the number of intact instruments owned and operated by towns and cities has apparently diminished to eight, only two of which have titled municipal organists: Ray Cornils for Portland and Carol Williams for the Balboa Park, Spreckels Pavillion Organ in San Diego.
The Kotzschmar Organ, of the symphonic-style, was built by the Austin Organ Co. in 1912, at which time it was the largest of many so-called municipal organs. Possessing 6,862 pipes in 102 ranks disposed in eight divisions — Swell, Great, Solo, Orchestral, Antiphonal, Echo, Pedal and Percussion — its lustrous and immersive sounds can still be heard emanating from three sites in the 1800-seat Merrill Auditorium. The extended weekend’s festivities will offer the public the last chances to hear the organ for some time since, according to Executive Director Kathleen Grammer, the organ will soon go silent for an 18 month and $4-million restoration
The Centennial Celebration commences on Friday the 17th at 7:30 when organist Tom Trenney accompanies Harold Lloyd’s hilarious silent photoplay, “Speedy.” (The Friends of the Kotzschmar organ has been presenting silent films with live music in addition to concerts and recitals since its inception.) The festivities on the 18th begin at 9:30 with an all-day “Performathon featuring Maine organists. Numerous other events including lectures, organ-crawls, performances and master-classes will take place in various Portland locations. Participating organists from outside Maine will include: Felix Hell, Thomas Heywood, Frederick Hohman, Fred Swann, John Weaver and Richard Conte. The Kotzschmar Centennial Concert concludes the festivities on the 22nd at the Merrill Auditorium with Peter Richard Conte, Ray Cornils, and the Kotzschmar Festival Brass.