Saturday, December 02, 2006

A new Spivey Hall CD by organist Alan Morrison

In May 2005, distinguished American organist Alan Morrison -- a welcome and regular Spivey Hall guest artist, head of the organ deparment at the prestigious Curtis School of Music in Philadelphia, and son of two wonderful friends of Spivey Hall, Don Morrison and Clayton State University professor emerita of music Jeannine Morrison (a close friend of Emilie Spivey) -- gave a recital of works by American composers that was recorded live in concert. Copies of the recording, AMERICAN VOYAGE, arrived here last week, and I was eager to hear the music again.

The CD opens with Paul Creston's engaging Suite for Organ, Op. 70, includes Harold Stover's Mountain Music, and closes with two works by Dan Locklair: In Mystery and Wonder (The Casavant Diptych) and VOYAGE, A Fantasy for Organ (the latter of which was actually previously released on one of Alan's earlier CDs, no longer available). Several of the recorded selections -- Daniel Crozier's Cantilena for Organ, Eric Sessler's Fantasy for Organ Solo, and Larry King's Resurrection -- are fairly rare since they are published only in manuscript, and appear here for the first time on CD.

This CD represents quite a diversity of American compositional voices as well as highly original writing for the organ. Alan's superb performances of these works reveal many different characters of Spivey Hall's magnificent 4,413-pipe, 77-rank, 3-manual Albert Schweitzer Memorial Organ, built by Fratelli Ruffatti in Padova, Italy. In addition to some wonderfully extroverted moments, the disc features quiet, contemplative, introspective passages, too. Liner notes by Alan and a Voyage note by Dan Locklair offer interesting insights to enhance your listening experience.

This CD is a production of Atlanta's own ACA Digital Recordings, Inc. -- namely, the excellent team of Tommy Joe Anderson and Fred Horton, who have recorded the vast majority of Spivey Hall performances heard on local radio broadcasts as well as on National Public Radio's Performance Today. Tommy Joe and Fred have been with Spivey Hall from the very beginning, know how to record music here like no one else, and have played a major role in the Spivey Hall success story, as the music they record here continues to be disseminated over the airwaves and in commercial releases such as AMERICAN VOYAGE. We also owe lasting thanks to Tommy McCook of Widener & Co., curator of the Albert Schweitzer Memorial Organ, whose invaluable expertise supports all of our organ performances and recordings. To Alan and the entire production team, congratulations!

AMERICAN VOYAGE is available at Spivey Hall for $15 (including sales tax). To purchase a copy, just visit the Spivey Hall box office, or call (678) 466-4200 with your credit card number and we'll be glad to mail you a copy.

RIAS Kammerchor, Rolando Villazon, Anonymous 4

There's so much going on at the Hall these days...we need 36-hour days this time of year! I'm writing this between two concerts on Saturday, December 2nd (organist Jonas Nordwall and The Atlanta Singers) and November 11th seems like a long time ago. However, it must be blogged that the RIAS Kammerchor Berlin made a splendid Spivey Hall debut with a cappella singing of the most rewarding beauty. I loved hearing their exquisite Brahms, Schubert and Schumann, as well as their arrangements of the two Mahler songs -- and was enthralled to hear the Ligeti works (Night, Morning, and the Three Fantasies after Friederich Hoelderin -- "The Middle of Life," "If From a Distance," and "Evening Fantasy") sung with such precision and richness of expression. (The more I hear of Ligeti -- especially in live performance -- the more I want to hear. I find this so often true with modern and contemporary music -- a live performance often has an effect that a CD recording, no matter how good, cannot.) The Kammerchor and conductor James Wood joined the entire audience for a post-concert reception hosted by The Friends of Spivey Hall, The German Consulate General Atlanta and The German Cultural Center. German Deputy Consul General Lutz Goergens and GCC Executive Director Wolfgang Krueger honored us with their eloquent remarks. I sincerely thank them for their gracious cooperation and for inviting their special guests to attend. This was a musically memorable evening, with an exceptionally warm and happy spirit. I gladly praised the artists: a cappella choral singing of this high quality is rarely heard, and it suits the acoustics of Spivey Hall perfectly. They started their North American debut tour very strongly, and left Spivey Hall with an immediate invitation to return.

Rolando Villazon's recital the next afternoon was indeed a momentous event -- truly one for the Spivey Hall record books. Mr. Villazon was in magnificent voice and sang with intelligence, passion, an inviting personality, and tremendous joy. He is someone who takes enormous pleasure in performing and communicates this pleasure amply to the audience, who cheered him mightily. I enjoyed the dramatic insights of his interpretation of Dichterliebe and had Tosti's "Chanson de l'adieu," snippets from Fernando Obradors' Canciones Classicas Espanolas, and Rossini's "La danza" (one of several encores) ringing in my head for days afterwards. This was simply thrilling singing, and pianist Bryndon Hassman proved a superb collaborator. Mr. Villazon signed autographs for about 90 minutes following his recital and many photographs were taken. We were delighted to welcome guests of Mexican Consulate General Remedios Gomez-Arnau and Instituto de Mexico Executive Director Lucilla Ruvalcaba to this auspicious occasion; they all made Mr. Villazon feel especially welcome in Atlanta, and for this I am especially grateful. The Consulate General and the Instituto generously co-sponsored a post-concert reception with The Friends of Spivey Hall, which was lively, reflecting the excitement of this important debut. I'm delighted to report that Mr. Villazon was very pleased to discover Spivey Hall; he admired its intimate size, its inspiring acoustics and the warmth and attentiveness of the audience. He told me he wishes to return for another recital in a future season, which I consider excellent news indeed! I was on such a high after this event.... Such a sound to savor, such extraordinary communication between artist and audience, and such amazing energy during and after the performance. I'll remember this one.

Spivey Hall is a favorite concert venue for Anonymous 4. They'd been away far too long! They returned on November 18 for their latest program, "Long Time Traveling," featuring two special guests, fiddler Darol Anger and guitarist Scott Nygaard. Anonymous 4 generally perform a cappella, thus collaborating with instrumentalists was something of a departure from their typical concert format. As we might have expected from these marvelous musicians, the program succeeded beautifully. If you liked their mega-chart-busting recording American Angels but haven't heard their latest CD, Gloryland, there's a big treat in store for you. "Long Time Traveling" features many of Gloryland's best tunes. I was especially taken by "Merrick," one of several folk hymns and revival songs in the program (and on the CD), with its refrain "Lord, revive us" that rolled around in my head for days afterwards (you can hear a bit of it on their website,, and the gospel song "Where We'll Never Grow Old." Darol and Scott did some impressive numbers of their own, and the four members of Anonymous 4 -- Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, Jacqueline Horner, and Johanna Maria Rose -- were not so anonymous as they took turns speaking to the audience with grace and congeniality. Their voices blend with uncanny unity, but each has its own distinctive character and color, revealed when they take solo turns. Singing from the heart, they created a lovely rapport with the audience. I just received my first holiday card of the season at Spivey Hall, and (lo and behold) it's from Anonymous 4. Many thanks, ladies, for your splendid concert and your good wishes! We look forward to your next project and the pleasure of another evening in your musical company.