You know how some guys like to trick out their cars with hot graphics, spinner rims and performance mufflers?
Well, Mario Pearson, principal organist and director of music and liturgy at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, has done that with the cathedral’s organ.
He has taken what was already a fine Ruffatti instrument and added digital samples from some of Europe’s greatest organs to turn it into a turbocharged mean machine.
You’re invited to join Pearson and several of his organist friends for a joy ride at the third annual French Organ Festival from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday at the cathedral.
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Aristide Cavaille-Coll revolutionized organ music with the symphonic organs he built in the 19th century. He opened a whole new world of sound to French composers such as Louis Vierne, Charles-Marie Widor and, later, Olivier Messiaen. The organ became an orchestra, with a sweeping, thrilling, cinematic sound of almost endless color.
It’s not a Cavaillé-Coll, but with Pearson’s tweaks, the cathedral’s Ruffatti organ is as close as you’re going to get in Kansas City. Pearson says it’s a very close approximation of the grand instruments usually found only in French cathedrals.
“We have 50 ranks of pipes, and we have what is referred to as a hybrid console,” Pearson said. “Behind each of its pipe stops there are also digital stops. My friend Hector Olivera personally digitally sampled the organs of Notre Dame and Saint-Sulpice cathedrals. So we have digital versions of those organs on the Ruffatti.”
With these digital samples of the great Cavaillé-Coll organs, Pearson has created an instrument that is perfect for the music of Cesar Franck, Vierne and Widor, the composers who will be featured at the festival. Johann Sebastian Bach wrote brilliant organ music with unparalleled mathematical complexity, but 19th century French organs allowed a rainbow palette that was simply unavailable to Bach and other composers of the Baroque era.
“The beauty of French music is the color of the sound,” Pearson said. “When I use a pipe stop, alongside of that I’ll mix in a digital version of the same pipe just to add a different color to it, for a different shade of red or blue. With digital media, you can craft and create whatever it is you want. You can change the volume, you can change the timbre and texture of any sound.”
Pearson is something of a technological geek who uses it to enhance the audience’s listening experience. For example, he will have a large split screen at the front of the church that will have notes about the music and photographs of the composers on one side and a high-definition video feed of the organist in action on the other.
“We bring the loft to you,” Pearson said. “You can see in real time what’s happening at the organ console, the organist playing several manuals, playing with his feet, turning pages and changing registrations. People who have never seen that will be absolutely fascinated.”
For his festival, Pearson has lined up an all-star team with some of Kansas City’s finest organists, including John Schaefer, Paul Turner and Jan Kraybill, principal organist for the Community of Christ Temple and the Auditorium Organ in Independence and conservator of the Helzberg Hall organ. Kraybill will conclude the festival with movements from the Organ Symphony No. 4 by Vierne.
Vierne’s organ symphonies are not for the faint of heart, either performers or audiences. They’re rumbling beasts belching flames and smoke, which should appeal to those with a taste for the Gothic. If anyone can tame them, it’s Kraybill. According to Pearson, “she just tears it up” in the final movement.
Toward the middle of the festival, Pearson will take his turn at the keyboard of his beloved Ruffatti. He’ll be joined by the cathedral’s Schola Cantorum for the Te Deum, the Catholic hymn of praise. Gregorian chant will alternate with Pearson’s organ improvisations. Pearson and the Schola also will perform “O Sacrum Convivium” by the psychedelic Messiaen.
The French cafe will return. No need to be famished while your mind is being blown by incredible music. Affordable French pastries and sandwiches will be provided by Treat America Food Services.
“There’s nothing better than live music,” Pearson said. “We live in a culture where we see everything on TV or hear things on the radio. Here’s an opportunity to hear and see art taking place live right before you, and that’s something, unfortunately, not many people avail themselves of. We just want people to experience the transformational power of music. Once you’ve experienced it, you’ll say, ‘Gosh, why didn’t I do this before?’”
From Notre Dame Cathedral to Michelangelo’s Pieta, the Virgin Mary has inspired some of the world’s greatest art. Some of the most glorious sacred music has been written to honor the Blessed Virgin, and the Spire Chamber Ensemble, conducted by Ben Spalding, will perform an inspiring program of that repertoire Saturday at Visitation Church.
“Ave Maria: Chants and Songs in Honor of Mary” will include music by a variety of composers from every era. From the Renaissance, there’s the gorgeous polyphony of Giovanni Palestrina’s “Alma Redemptoris Mater” and Tomas Luis de Victoria’s “Salve Regina a 8.” The Romantic era of the 19th century is represented by Anton Bruckner’s “Ave Maria,” and the “Magnificat” by contemporary composer Arvo Part is a perfect example of sacred minimalism.
Local choreographer Jane Gotch describes her work as having “a vacillating identity between highly technical dance and emotionally expressive physical theater.”
You can get a taste of her modern aesthetic when dancers Leo Gayden, Juliet Remmers, DJ Duncan and Prince Lyons perform Gotch’s “Let It Fall” and other new works Friday and Saturday at St. Mark Hope and Peace Lutheran Church.
St. Louis choreographer Kameron N. Saunders is also contributing some dance to the program. Music will be provided by guitarist Mikal Shapiro on Friday night and bassist Jeff Harshbarger on Saturday.
Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. St. Mark Hope and Peace Lutheran Church, 3800 Troost Ave. $15. letitfall.brownpapertickets.com.
Tivoli “William Tell”
When it made its debut at the Royal Opera House in June, Damiano Michieletto’s production of Gioacchino Rossini’s “William Tell” was booed by the audience for what was perceived to be its gratuitous nudity and a rape scene. The opera house apologized and toned down some of the more extreme elements, although it is still reportedly a very provocative production.
The Tivoli Cinemas in Westport will present this controversial take on one of Rossini’s less-performed works in an HD broadcast Sunday.
Everyone knows the thrilling “William Tell” Overture, but not as many are familiar with the opera that follows. This is a rare opportunity to become acquainted with a work that is considered one of Rossini’s finest noncomic operas.
The story, of course, concerns William Tell, the 14th century Swiss national hero who shot an apple off his son’s head with an arrow and led a rebellion against the Austrians. Michieletto’s production, despite the excesses of his original vision, has won praise for its powerful depiction of war. Antonio Pappano, one of the greatest opera conductors in the world today, leads the opera house orchestra and a huge cast that includes tenor John Osborn, baritone Gerald Finley and soprano Malin Bystrom.
The French Organ Festival runs from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, 416 W. 12th St. Free. For more information, visit kcgolddome.org. The schedule of performers:
▪ 1 p.m.: John Schaefer and Trinity Chamber Choir with Leora Nauta
▪ 1:30 p.m.: John Davies
▪ 2 p.m.: Thomas Zachacz
▪ 2:30 p.m.: Ronald Krebs
▪ 3 p.m.: Paul Erickson
▪ 3:30 p.m.: Mario Pearson and the Cathedral Schola Cantorum
▪ 3:50 p.m.: Paul Turner assisted by the Cathedral Schola Men Chanters
▪ 4:20 p.m.: Jan Kraybill