Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Organ Celebration Concert—Denver’s Calvary Baptist Church

Photo credit: Don Belshaw, Morel and Associates

On Sunday, October 23, 2016, Calvary Baptist Church (CBC) in southeast Denver celebrated the remodeling of its sanctuary and restoration of its pipe organ with a dedication concert featuring organist Dr. Joseph Galema and trumpet virtuoso Ryan Spencer. The hour-long program included works ranging from the mid-1700s to 2000, with seven organ-only pieces and three that featured both organ and trumpet.

The concert opened with “Suite in D Major,” a composition that takes the music of G.F. Handel—notably passages from the overture to one of his famous “Water Music” suites—and turns it into a three-movement arrangement for organ and trumpet by the enigmatic brass instrumentalist Edward H. Tarr. Chief among its themes is the opening movement’s “call and response” interplay between trumpet and organ. While baroque music is sometimes called “simplistic” due to its fairly basic orchestration, Mr. Spencer handled the fiendishly challenging trills with delightful dexterity. Tarr’s arrangement also de-emphasizes lower notes, thereby providing listeners with a brightly effervescent tour through the organ’s upper register.

Following works by J.S. Bach—a dark C minor fugue—Cesar Franck and Ralph Vaughan Williams, Dr. Galema concluded the first half of the concert with “Tocatta on ‘Amazing Grace’” by American composer J. Christopher Pardini. This arrangement of the popular hymn is, at times, bombastic and heroic. It provided Galema with quite the foot-pedal workout in a musical setting that helped re-imagine an “Amazing Grace” suitable for a NASCAR event or a patriotic rally, a far cry from its more traditional pastoral sensibility.

The highlight of the late afternoon’s program was “Triptyque,” a piece for organ and trumpet by French composer Philippe Mabboux. Written in 1999 as the composer’s entry into the International Contest of Wind Instruments, the piece reflects Mabboux’s scientific training in musical form. In almost mathematical precision, he gives each instrument an opportunity to show off its versatility in solo passages, as well as perfectly blended music when playing together. The program concluded with works by Saint-Saëns, Hovhaness, and Marcel Dupré.

Dr. Galema is principal organist at First United Methodist Church in Colorado Springs while also fulfilling the role of organ instructor at Denver University’s Lamont School of Music. He earned his doctorate in Musical Arts from the University of Michigan.

Mr. Spencer also has ties to Lamont, having recently earned his master’s in Music Performance there along with the school’s award for Outstanding Graduate Student in Performance. He is a member of the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra as well as several other regional ensembles, including the Pikes Peak Brass Band.

Morel and Associates was awarded the task of restoring the 1980s-era McManis organ, which CBC had acquired in 2011 from another Denver-area church for the knock-down price of $5,000. The instrument was placed into storage while the sanctuary underwent a massive remodeling effort directed by architect Marc Applebaum, and then the McManis was installed with a new façade, a host of new pipes, and an upgraded console that included casters to provide mobility. In addition to the striking display of the 27 lowest-note pipes at the front of the hall, a rank of trumpet-like pipes occupy the upper gallery at the rear. Rick Morel explained that additional phases of refurbishment will include a set of rebuilt eight-foot pipes taken from the McManis inventory to comprise an antiphonal section that will offer greater tonal depth and range of voice.

Led by organist and music director Kevin Padworski, Calvary Baptist Church plans to offer additional concerts open to the general public.  Details regarding upcoming music programs will be provided on their website.

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