News / Arts & Entertainment

Competition Pushes the Limits of Longwood Gardens Organ

The Longwood Organ is among the world’s great concert organs, with 146 ranks and 10,010 pipes.
The Longwood Organ is among the world’s great concert organs, with 146 ranks and 10,010 pipes.
Eric Felten
A century ago, American industrialist and philanthropist Pierre du Pont put his fortune to work planting an elaborate garden in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Not only were there landscaped grounds and large fountains, du Pont built over one-and-a-half hectares of grand, glass-enclosed greenhouses, or conservatories. Oh yes, and a massive organ with more than 10,000 pipes.
 
A greenhouse might seem an odd place to put a grand pipe organ. But the conservatories at Longwood Gardens are no ordinary greenhouses. Paul Redman, Director of Longwood Gardens, explains what du Pont had in mind when he had the organ built.

Competition Pushes the Limits of Longwood Gardens Pipe Organ
Competition Pushes the Limits of Longwood Gardens Pipe Organi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

“His palace, that he created, was our palace of flowers and the conservatories," he said. "And that was really where he entertained his family members and friends. And so why not have a ballroom, where he could have very large dinner parties for his friends and family? And why not have an organ as well?”

Built in 1930, that organ was recently restored at a cost of over $8 million. To celebrate the organ’s restoration, Longwood Gardens this year mounted an organ competition. Ten semi-finalists between the ages of 18 and 30 were chosen from around the world. They competed for a first prize of $40,000.

Benjamin SheenBenjamin Sheen
x
Benjamin Sheen
Benjamin Sheen
The pipe organ isn’t exactly an obvious instrument for a young musician to adopt. Many of the organists competing at Longwood Gardens first heard organ music in church and were fascinated by the instrument’s power and complexity. As a boy, Benjamin Sheen sang in the choir at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. He might never have played the organ if his voice hadn’t given out.

“When I was 11 I couldn’t sing because I got laryngitis and had to take about six months off singing." he said. "And one of my primary duties was to page-turn for the organist for every service. I was exposed to this wonderful instrument at St. Paul’s Cathedral and one day I thought that I’d like to give it a go.”

With multiple keyboards, foot pedals, and hundreds of switches controlling which pipes will sound, the organ is a notoriously difficult instrument to master. The organist has to do so many things all at once that it could be described as playing three pianos while tap-dancing and flying a jet airplane. And yet, for the young musician who wants to play the pipe organ, finding an instrument to practice on can be difficult.

Competition finalist Adam Pajan was born in Pennsylvania. He solved the problem of getting practice time when the church he attended built a new sanctuary -- and put in a new organ.

“I scraped together $600 of the money I had saved from mowing lawns and bought the old organ," he said. "My parents graciously gave up the dining room and it moved into the house.”

With an instrument to practice on, one of the greatest challenges for a young organist is to master the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. At the Longwood Gardens organ competition, every contestant was required to play at least one work by the Baroque-era composer -- and for good reason, says Pajan.

“Bach is always the litmus test because it is the main staple of our repertoire,” he said.

But truth be told, the Longwood Organ isn’t really at its best with Bach. Finalist Baptiste-Florian Marle-Ouvrard is originally from Paris. He explained that the instrument has so many more sounds available than a church organ that it is best-suited for playing music transcribed from orchestral works.

“The organ is excellent to have the sound of orchestra,” he said.

Composed of 10,010 pipes divided into 146 ranks, the Longwood Organ is the largest Aeolian organ ever constructed in a residential setting.Composed of 10,010 pipes divided into 146 ranks, the Longwood Organ is the largest Aeolian organ ever constructed in a residential setting.
x
Composed of 10,010 pipes divided into 146 ranks, the Longwood Organ is the largest Aeolian organ ever constructed in a residential setting.
Composed of 10,010 pipes divided into 146 ranks, the Longwood Organ is the largest Aeolian organ ever constructed in a residential setting.
The instrument at Longwood Gardens was built to be an orchestra in itself. Competition judge Peter Richard Conte is the Principal Organist of The Longwood Organ, and he lists some of the rare sounds the instrument can conjure.

“Amazing array of orchestral voices including a vast string section, and things like French horn and clarinets and orchestral oboes and English horns in great multitudes of stops you don’t find in regular church organs,” he said.

For another of the judges, Sophie-Veronique Cauchefer-Choplin the biggest surprise was the organ’s rhythm section, with snare drums and bass drums, bells and other percussion instruments.

“It’s a complicated organ, with a lot of sounds…with the cymbal, the - bddddrrrrr - batterie [drums]," she said. "It’s unique for me because never you see that in France.”

During the finals, Adam Pajan put that rhythm section to use in his performance of a Brazilian samba long favored by theater organists, “Tico Tico.”

The most creative use of the Longwood Organ’s rare features was made by finalist Thomas Gaynor, performing Rossini’s “William Tell Overture.” Before the famous gallop at the end of the song comes a delicate pastoral section with flutes flittering about. As if the flutes weren’t birdlike enough, Gaynor managed to find the lever that made the organ twitter and chirp.

“It’s quite a funny stop," he said. "All they do is put three pipes upside-down in a bucket of water and it makes this tweeting sound that sounds like a bird. It’s quite magic.”

“We’ve heard pretty much everything. The one thing we haven’t heard yet is, there’s a gong, a Chinese gong upstairs that’s controlled by a kick-lever for your foot,” said Conte, who praised the contestants for digging deep into the possibilities of the Longwood Organ.

“Their determination to, literally, pull out all the stops…They’re really using every last creative ounce of energy to make their performances really pop,” he said.

​After three days of flying fingers and tricky footwork, the top prize went to the one-time choirboy with the sore throat, Benjamin Sheen. He finished his winning performance with his own transcription of a work for orchestra by Johannes Brahms, the “Tragic Overture.”

Meet Benjamin Sheen:

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

Country-pop singer, Lizzie Sider sits down with "Border Crossings" host Larry London to perform songs from her new album, “Butterfly,” and to talk about her anti-bullying tour.

Blogs

African Music Treasures