Organists to Premiere Works

Thursday, Sep 14, 2023
Juilliard Journal
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The organ console and behind it the pipes and case
The Schoenstein organ at Christ and St. Stephen's Church

By Phoon Yu

In an increasingly globalized and interconnected world, the organ, which Mozart once described as the “king of instruments,” has found many friends beyond its traditional perches in Europe and the U.S. These days, new organs are being commissioned in countries that have had little prior experience with the instrument, and young musicians from those communities are increasingly studying its literature. Furthermore, new works are continuously being written for it, and new collaborations are being struck between enterprising organists and a variety of artists.

Such enthusiasm will be on display on October 26, when organ students and alumni will present 11 duets and solo organ works at Christ and St. Stephen’s Church, which is on West 69th Street, near Juilliard. While about half of the composers whose work will be presented come from Europe and North America, more traditional stomping grounds of the organ, the rest are from places where the instrument has historically had less of a presence.

For instance, there are composers from China (second-year Yuchan Li), Thailand (fourth-year Nichagarn Chiracharasporn), Hong Kong (Matthew Lam), Singapore (myself), and Cyprus (fourth-year Alexandros Darna). In addition, there are pieces by contemporary composers from the U.K. (Roderick Elms) and Canada (Denis Bédard and Rachel Laurin). Rounding out the program are works by more well-known composers who worked mostly in the 20th century, including Dutch composer Jan Koetsier and American composers Alan Hovhaness and John Weaver, who was the chair of Juilliard’s organ department from 1987 to 2004. The relative youth of most of these composers shows the widespread appeal of the organ and that its allure is unrestricted by age, geography, or nationality.

Most of the works are duets, showing that the organ can work in a chamber setting as well as any other instrument. They were created to be performed with a range of instruments, among them English horn, flute, guitar, harp, saxophone, trumpet, viola, and violin.

Paul Jacobs, chair of the Juilliard organ department, notes, “From the Robertsbridge Codex of the 14th century through our own time, composers continue to be inspired by the endless possibilities of writing for the organ. This most versatile instrument has something for everyone in every age.”

Phoon Yu (DMA ’22, organ) is an organist and composer who is active in Singapore and the U.S.