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Classical preview: American Guild of Organists holds national convention in Nashville

Fourth of July fireworks won’t be the only pyrotechnics in Nashville next week. That’s because many of the country’s preeminent pipe organ virtuosos will be in town, dashing off toccatas, fugues and concertos as part of the American Guild of Organists 51st National Convention.

This year’s biennial event, which has attracted 1,500 or so registrants from around the country and the world, will feature workshops, competitions and concerts at prominent area churches andorgan concert halls. The highlight of the convention comes at 8 p.m. Friday, July 6, when the Nashville Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Giancarlo Guerrero presents the world premiere of Roberto Sierra’s Concerto for Organ and Orchestra at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Organist Todd Wilson will solo.

“I wrote the concerto expressly for this year’s AGO convention,” says Sierra, who was on the phone from his home in upstate New York. “The concerto is a real virtuoso piece and should be fun to watch.”

The convention gets under way with a 7:30 p.m. concert Sunday, July 1 at First Baptist Church, 108 7th Ave. South, featuring the music of composer and organist Craig Phillips. The program will include his Three Sketches for Organ, which was commissioned for the convention, along with his Suite for Organ, Brass and Percussion and Prelude and Exultation. Belmont Brass from Belmont University will participate in the concert.

trotterOrganist Thomas Trotter, one of Britain’s foremost instrumentalists, will present a full-length recital at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, One Symphony Place, at 8 p.m. on Monday, July 2. Trotter is also Organist at St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey and Visiting Fellow in Organ Studies at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. His recital in Nashville will include Handel’s Organ Concerto Op. 4, No. 2, Schumann’s Two Studies in Canonic Form (Nos. 4 and 5), Widor’s Allegro from Symphony No. 5, Nyman’s Fourths, Mostly, Elgar’s Sonata in G major and an arrangement for Rossini’s William Tell Overture.

Prior to Trotter’s recital, concertgoers will get the chance to see some of the world’s finest automobiles. A vintage Rolls Royce exhibit will be on display Monday evening in front of the Schermerhorn. Thomas Murray, an organ professor at Yale University, and the national Rolls Royce Club have provided the vehicles.

The noted organist and harpsichord virtuoso Matthew Dirst, who gave a memorable Music City Baroque concert last fall, returns to Nashville to perform two concerts at dirstBelmont University Concert Hall, 2100 Belmont Blvd., at 1:30 and 3:15 p.m. Thursday, July 5. His program with viola da gamba player Mary Springfels and traverso player Colin St. Martin will include music of Couperin, Leclair, C.P.E. Bach and J.S. Bach. The Nashville Chamber Singers will perform a commissioned work by Rosephanye Powell.

The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge will appear at the First Baptist Church at 8 p.m. Thursday. That concert, under the direction of Stephen Layton, will include the music of Arvo Pärt, John Tavener, Robert Parsons, Ugis Praulins, Thomas Tallis, Steven Stucky, Henry Purcell, Heinrich Schütz, Edward Elgar, Felix Mendelssohn and J.S. Bach.

In addition to Sierra’s concerto, next Friday’s NSO concert will also feature a performance of Stephan Paulus’ Grand Organ Concerto with organist Nathan Laube, along with Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture, Mendelssohn’s Variations Serieuses, Dvorak’s Carnival Overture and Richard Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. During the concert’s intermission, Nashville philanthropist Martha Ingram will accept the AGO President’s Award for her support both of the convention and for the arts in Music City.

Tickets for concerts at the Schermerhorn are available at the Nashville Symphony Box Office and by calling 615-687-6400. Trinity Choir tickets will be available all week at the AGO registration table at the Nashville Convention Center,  601 Commerce St. The complete convention schedule is available here.

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About John Pitcher

John Pitcher is the chief classical music, jazz and dance critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He has been a classical music critic for the Washington Post, the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, National Public Radio’s Performance Today (NPR), ArtNowNashville.com and the Nashville Scene. His writings about music and the arts have also appeared in Symphony Magazine, American Record Guide and Stagebill Magazine, among other publications. Pitcher earned his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he studied arts writing with Judith Crist and Phyllis Garland. His work has received the New York State Associated Press award for outstanding classical music criticism.