The Daily Iowan

Music school unveils new organ

The+keyboard+and+knobs+that+give+the+Organ+its+sound+during+the+open+house+and+showing+of+the+new+Organ++at+the+Voxman+Concert+Hall%2C+in+Iowa+City%2C+Iowa++on+Friday%2C+Dec.+2%2C+2016.+%28The+Daily+Iowan%2FAnthony+Vazquez%29
The keyboard and knobs that give the Organ its sound during the open house and showing of the new Organ  at the Voxman Concert Hall, in Iowa City, Iowa  on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016. (The Daily Iowan/Anthony Vazquez)

The keyboard and knobs that give the Organ its sound during the open house and showing of the new Organ at the Voxman Concert Hall, in Iowa City, Iowa on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016. (The Daily Iowan/Anthony Vazquez)

Anthony Vazquez

Anthony Vazquez

The keyboard and knobs that give the Organ its sound during the open house and showing of the new Organ at the Voxman Concert Hall, in Iowa City, Iowa on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016. (The Daily Iowan/Anthony Vazquez)


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By Claire Dietz

 [email protected]

How hard is it to sit and practice an instrument for an hour? If an hour is daunting, how does the prospect of playing for eight hours seem in comparison?

English organist Kevin Bowyer will help celebrate the inauguration of the School of Music’s new organ by playing Kaikhosru Sorabji’s Second Symphony for Organ, which lasts for approximately eight hours. He will begin playing Friday at noon in the Voxman Concert Hall.

Use of the organ as an instrument dates back to around 250 BCE, when Ctesibius of Alexandria invented the water organ used to accompany races and games during the Greek and Roman eras. In the Medieval era, the instrument spread from the Byzantine Empire, where it was used in secular and imperial court music. It spread to Western Europe, where it became a staple of the Catholic Church liturgy.

Bowyer himself is best known for playing complex and unusual music, and undertaking what is largely considered to be “impossible” projects.

According to his website, in 1987, Bowyer premièred Sorabji’s two-hour solo Symphony for Organ — considered “impossible” ever since its publication in 1925.

Sorabji was an English composer and pianist considered to be one of the 20th century’s most prolific piano composers. His work was, at least for a time, however, quite famously hard to encounter. The reason for this was simple enough: In 1936, after Jon Tobin gave an inadequate performance of Sorabji’s Pars prima from Opus clavicembalisticum, the composer banned unauthorized performances until 1969.

The Second Symphony for Organ clocks in at approximately eight hours long and was composed from 1929 to 1932. The manuscript alone is 350 pages long. Bower has been the only artist to perform it, and he has played it more than 10 times since he first played it at the Collegiate Church of St. Mary in Warwick, UK, in 1994.

“In June 2010, he premièred Sorabji’s Second Symphony for Organ in Glasgow and Amsterdam — at nearly eight hours’ duration, the longest notated organ work of all. He recently completed a critical edition of Sorabji’s complete organ works, a 1,000-page project that occupied him almost full time for six years,” according to his online bio.

Bowyer is now the organist at the University of Glasgow, which hosts more than 150 weddings a year. He is known, according to his website, for encouraging couples “to have ‘absolutely anything they want’ played on the organ. He has never turned down any request.”

Now, this talent will be brought to the University of Iowa to mark the inauguration of the School of Music’s new organ, which Associate Professor of Organ Gregory Hand chose to have modeled after the organ in the Schwerin Cathedral in Schwerin, Germany.

The Schwerin organ was designed by Orgelbau Klais, a German firm known for designing, building, and restoring pipe organs. Some notable pipe organs were built in Athens, Greece; throughout Germany; Brisbane, Australia; Bath and Westminster, UK; and Reykjavík, Iceland.

The company was founded in 1882 and has been in the family ever since; it has been called “the power behind the throne” in the organ world by the London Times.

Attendees at Friday’s concert will have the rare opportunity to catch one of the world’s great organists playing one of the world’s great organs — it should not be missed.

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