Kansas City’s lovers of organ music have a unique way of marking the beginning and end of summer.
The season began with Bachathon the first Sunday in May at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral and concludes the final Sunday in August at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception with the French Organ Music Festival.
This year’s three-hour celebration of glorious French music will take place Aug. 25 with performances beginning at 2 p.m.
This is the seventh year for the French Organ Music Festival, which was conceived by Mario Pearson, organist and director of music at Immaculate Conception, as a bookend to the Bach celebration.
“I still remember sitting at Grace and Holy Trinity about eight years ago listening to Bach and thinking that the music was suited for the space,” Pearson said. “So I started wondering if we could do a similar concept in our cathedral, maybe something to end summer. I thought that with our buoyant acoustics plus the organ that we have, which has digitally sampled voices from Notre Dame and St. Sulpice, that we should do a French organ festival.”
Pearson’s festival is very much modeled on Bachathon. People are invited to “come when you can, leave when you must.” Or as Pearson prefers to say, “Reste comme tu veux, pars quant il the faut.”
Also, like Bachathon, some of the finest organists in the city are invited to take part. This year, those organists include MacKenzie Reed, a summa cum laude graduate of Wesleyan University and principal organist at Our Lady of Good Counsel, and Edward Poston, a recipient of the 2016 E. Power Biggs Fellowship Award and assistant organist at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Lenexa.
Another organist on the scheduled is Sr. Mary of Holy Hope, a nun with the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, whom Pearson calls “a renaissance woman.” He said she has a doctorate in chemistry.
“She doesn’t want people to know that because she’s very humble and committed to her vocation. She was one of our cathedral staff organists a couple of years ago, but her primary responsibility is with her community, so she had to cut back,” Pearson said. “But she’s such a fine musician. She plays the harp, she plays the violin, she plays the piano, she plays the organ. She’s now a graduate student at KU studying church music and is just an incredible human being.”
A highlight of the festival will be a work for choir and organ by Maurice Duruflé, which will be performed by organist Jacob Hofeling, who will also lead the KU Men’s Ensemble.
“This is the third time Jacob is performing on the festival,” Pearson said. “He’s a rising star, an amazing talent. ... I’m really excited to hear it because Jacob is a very imaginative organist with registration and voicing. That performance is on my radar.”
As she has in the past, local organ superstar Jan Kraybill will conclude the afternoon with a showstopper.
“Jan never ceases to wow and amaze the audience whenever she performs, and she always ends the festival with a piece that brings the house down,” Pearson said. “She’s closing the program with Vierne’s Carillon de Westminster, and I know she’ll do the piece justice.”
Making the festival especially audience-friendly will be Pearson’s high-tech aids, which include not just the video cameras showing the organists’ hands and feet, but also program notes projected on a screen.
“I think the educational element is what distinguishes our festival from other traditional organ performances,” Pearson said. “Unless they’re an organist, most people in the audience don’t know who (Charles-Marie) Widor is or looks like or his story. You can read it in the program, but I wanted to project the visuals in real-time, so people will be able to see and read about these composers as they’re listening to the music.”
If you’re feeling peckish, there will be a French café in the south chapel with authentic goodies.
“It’s your French sandwiches and desserts and macarons,” Pearson said. “They’re all freshly prepared by a husband and wife team. If you’re hungry and need a break, you can enjoy a snack and wherever you’re sitting you can still hear the performances.”
2 p.m. MacKenzie Reed plays the Toccata pour Grand Orgue by Gaston Bélier, selections from Claude Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque, the second movement from the Organ Symphony No. 5 by Charles Marie Widor and the finale to the Symphony No. 1 by Louis Vierne.
2:30 p.m. Edward Poston plays Widor’s Organ Symphony No. 4.
3 p.m. Jacob Hofeling conducts the KU Men’s Ensemble in Maurice Duruflé’s Messe cum Jubilo.
3:30 p.m. Sr. Mary of Holy Hope, SOLT plays the Suite du Troisieme Ton by Jean Adam Guilain and the Organ Sonata No. 1 by Alexandre Guilmant.
4 p.m. Andrew Morris plays the Toccata Op. 9 by Jean Guillou and Douze Pièces by Gaston Litaize
4:30 p.m. Jan Kraybill plays Fiat Lux (Let There Be Light), from Douze Pièces Nouvelles pour Grand Orgue by Théodore Dubois, Choral-Improvisation on Victimae paschal laudes (Praise to the Paschal Victim) by Charles Tournemire, Funeral March of a Marionette by Charles Gounod and Carillon de Westminster by Vierne.
2 to 5 p.m. Aug. 25. Free. Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, 416 W. 12th St. Free. For more information, www.kcgolddome.org/french-organ-music-festival.
You can reach Patrick Neas at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat, at www.facebook.com/kcartsbeat.