Every Sunday afternoon, visitors make their way to MAG’s second floor, drawn by the rich music emanating from the Fountain Court. There, in the midst of late Renaissance and Baroque paintings and sculptures, stands a restored, visually stunning 18th-century Italian Baroque organ.
“The instrument is a living, breathing, singing work of art,” says David Higgs, chair of Eastman’s organ department. “It is one of the oldest organs now in America, and its sound has a profound effect on the musical sensibilities of those who hear it.”
The organ was built around 1770 in central Italy and its 600 pipes were crafted to render the vocal and instrumental sonorities of its time. Its 22-foot case was lavishly carved, painted and gilded. But two centuries later, the organ was bound for sale as a piece of furniture. By a stroke of luck it was discovered by the German organ builder Gerald Woehl, who fully restored the instrument in his workshop.
The organ was installed at the Gallery in 2005. Since then, its beautiful authentic sounds have been heard by thousands of people who have dropped in on the weekly Sunday mini-recitals or come to special Baroque Organ Showcase concerts by internationally known guest artists and Eastman musicians.
Highlights have included collaborations with Pegasus Early Music and with composers writing new music specifically for the instrument; improvisation with dancers from SUNY Brockport; and popular Christmas concerts.
Eastman organ professors David Higgs, Hans Davidsson, and William Porter produced the inaugural CD of performances on the Italian organ. Italian organ virtuoso and scholar Edoardo Bellotti, who was a member of the international reference group for the organ’s restoration, performed on the Italian Baroque Organ for his first American recording. Titled Promenade, the CD was inspired by works in the Gallery’s collections and features improvisations by Bellotti and organ works by Baroque composers which are paired with seven paintings. Both recordings are available in the Gallery Store. Hear excerpts
Bellotti returns this fall to perform in one of a series of concerts celebrating the fifth anniversary of the organ. On Sunday, November 14 at 7:30 pm, he’ll be joined by members of Weser-Renaissance, an ensemble noted throughout Europe for their exacting work with 16th- and 17th-century music.
Other events include a special holiday concert on Sunday, December 19 at 5:30 pm, and mini-recitals by Eastman School of Music students each Sunday at 1 and 3 pm.
Top of page: The organ’s inaugural concert in October 2005 is a performance of the Monterverdi Vespers.