|Organists for Northrop Open House including Dean Billmeyer (standing far right) with Michael Barone (third from right).|
By pure luck more than good planning, I happened to be in Minneapolis for the opening weekend of the Northrop Auditorium Pipe Organ at the University of Minnesota. Friday and Saturday night inaugural performances featured Paul Jacobs and included a Harbison world premiere as well as Saint-Saëns - Symphony No. 3 "Organ symphony" for which the organ part of the latter was played by Dean Billmeyer.
Sandwiched in between was a Saturday organ open house hosted by none other than American Public Radio's own Michael Barone, who proved to be both humorous and as engaging in real life as he is on his long running radio program PipeDreams.
The newly refurbished Northrop Auditorium organ is exquisite in clarity and the registrations sounded very well balanced. Besides the excellent original organ design and voicing that had over the years fortunately been left largely in its original state (partly thru past lack of funding), there were two additional reasons the organ sounds so good: Arup SoundLabs Acoustic 3D modeling and organ voicing by Jack Bethards. More info on Arup SoundLabs here. Foley-Baker and Associates in Connecticut fully restored the pipes and mechanicals.
Dean Billmeyer, organ professor at University of Minnesota and Northrop organ advocate, demonstrated the various organs and stop families composing the newly renovated organ. Several other organists followed with an equally enjoyable morning concert. In the afternoon, the console was also opened to the public, with somewhat less spectacular results to my ear at least, though no fault of the organ. For example, some of the would-be organists mistook speed and volume for artistry. I wished for something more suitable for this organ like Elgar's Nimrod (from Enigma variations) but other than the sublime beauty of the piece itself, what additional value would it have provided? The morning concert organists had already ably demonstrated many of the organ's capabilities.
By the way, I have it on good authority that the organ in Royce Hall, UCLA is a close cousin if not near twin of this Northrop Auditorium organ, although in my humble opinion unless things have changed in the last two decades, the Royce Hall acoustics do not hold a candle to the newly rebuilt Northrop Hall acoustics and I suspect and hope the Northrop organ will see a lot more love than the Royce organ gets.
Read more about the Northrop organ on Minnesota Public Radio website.