Toronto’s Gordon Mansell is on a mission to bring the King of Instruments out of its religious exile.
You’d never know it from the few number of times the big Gabriel Kney organ at Roy Thomson Hall gets fired up every year, but there is a vast and varied repertoire for the instrument written specifically for the concert stage.
Organists are, by and large, also some of the versatile musicians around, capable of tremendous feats of improvisation, as well as arranging music to suit the versatility of their instruments of choice.
Mansell wants all of Toronto to experience the multi-layered wonders of this repertoire, through his Organix festival. Its most ambitious edition yet kicks off today with a lunchtime concert at the Church of the Holy Trinity and an evening of showtunes at Casa Loma’s Mighty Wurlitzer theatre organ, at 8 p.m.
This week’s Big Bangs come on Wednesday and Friday, when international guests are set to blow the dust out of two of Toronto’s biggest and finest instruments.
Italian master Massimo Nosetti sits himself down at the console of the organ at St. Paul’s Anglican Church on Bloor St to present two rarely heard concertos on Wednesday with trumpet soloist Michael Barth, backed up by a 33-piece orchestra led by Hamilton-area conductor Philip Sarabura.
The richly varied programme includes the Concerto in A minor, Op. 100, by Marco Enrico Bossi (1861-1925), and the Concerto No. 2, in G minor, Op. 177, by Joseph Rheinberger (1839-1901). (There’s even a transcription from Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet score on the bill.)
“I always admire the drama that Rhineberger has created in much of his work,” says Mansell, an accomplished professional organist and the Ontario dealer for Allen organs.
Mansell is a big fan of Nosetti’s. “If there’s an organ concerto, he has performed it,” he says.
This should be a thrilling musical evening. This concert begins early, at 6:30 p.m., to catch people after work and a quick bite to eat.
(Wednesday’s concert is dedicated to the memory of late Toronto organist Bruce Kirkpatrick Hill, a major fan and advocate of the music of Rhineberger.)
Here’s the opening movement of the Rheinberger Concerto, performed by Balács Szabó with the Heidelberg Philharmonic:
Wednesday’s concert is but one of 15 events that run to June 6, when veteran star of the organ keyboard, Diane Bish, arrives to close this year’s festival with a grand flourish at Metropolitan United Church.
The other big concert this week shows how capable the organ can be in completely taking over a symphony orchestra, thanks to its myriad stops, each designed to mimic the sound of a particular instrument.
A concert-level organ has stops for strings, flutes, woodwinds and brass — enough to raise goosebumps on even the most cynical forearm, if deployed with panache.
British organist Nigel Potts is one of those thrilling performers. He pairs up with fellow Brit, pianist Jeremy Filsell, at Metropolitan United on Friday evening in a showy, attractive programme that culminates in a performance of Sergei Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2.
For a taste of this particular treat, here are Potts and Filsell in the third movement of the Rachmaninov concerto, captured last fall at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, N.J.:
One of the remarkable things about the Organix festival, founded with fellow Toronto organist William O’Meara in 2005, is how Mansell has been able to organize this year’s edition without having a big corporate sponsor. Some of the concerts are supported by individual patrons or cultural organizations, but this festival is built largely on sheer determination.
“I’m a crazy guy,” says Mansell with a chuckle. “When passion gets in the way, logic leaves.”
Fortunately, the musicians he is bringing in over the next 30 days are all as passionate as he is, which makes for great concerts.
It’s well worth giving the King of Instruments a chance. Check out all the details of the festival here, including a multitude of audio and video clips.
Here is Bish with her own composition, Dance of the Trumpets, which is part of her June 6 programme: