Friday, January 31, 2014

Richard Morris Memorial Concert tomorrow

Saturday, February 1st, Spivey Hall pays tribute to our late organist-in-residence, Richard Morris, who passed away unexpectedly in September from injuries sustained while driving to his church. On the day that was scheduled to be his annual Spivey Hall recital, we will pay tribute to his memory and celebrate his life in words and music.

Performing the 3 PM concert (for which all available tickets have been issued -- we expect a totally full house) are Alan Morrison, who like Richard was encouraged by Emilie Spivey to pursue a concert career, and performs extensively when he's not teaching at the Curtis Institute of Music (where he heads the organ department) or Westminster Choir College; and Peter Carter, one of Richard's more recent students, who performed at Richard's requiem mass, and who is now studying with Alan at Westminster.  Their program includes works from Richard's repertoire.  Both Alan and Peter will speak from the stage in the course of their recital.  A reception for the audience and artists follows, hosted by the Friends of Spivey Hall.

I will remember Richard the rest of my days -- the majesty and stylish elegance of his playing, and his inimitable way with words, both in his comments from the stage in his pre-concert talks with guest organists as well as in his own recitals. 

Richard Morris was man of strong convictions in his music-making and his faith.  He would be at times humorous, witty, and irreverent -- Richard enjoyed a joke and a laugh, and deflating pomposity -- but about things that mattered to him (e.g., the performance of Bach's music, and liturgical music in the Catholic Church) he was deeply, unwaveringly, and passionately serious.  I enjoyed his anecdotes about organists and the organ literature, and his stories about studying in France with the legendary pedagogue, Nadia Boulanger.  Richard was a young protégé of celebrated organist Virgil Fox, who coached him in repertoire and influenced his sense of showmanship.  Moreover, he was utterly loyal to Spivey Hall, and to the our magnificent Albert Schweitzer Memorial Organ built by Fratelli Ruffatti.  He is greatly missed.

At tomorrow's memorial concert, many people will share stories of Richard, whose music-making reached untold millions of listeners in concerts, recordings, and broadcasts over a long and distinguished career. 

Below is the bio that will appear in the memorial concert program book.

May 30, 1942 – September 12, 2013

James Richard Morris was born in Atlanta, the son of Benjamin Franklin Morris and Jessie Clyde Forehand Morris.  His remarkable musical talents quickly emerged.  His concert career began at age 12 as piano soloist with the Atlanta Pops Orchestra, performing the Grieg Piano Concerto at the Fox Theatre before an audience of 5,000 people. At age 13, he was head post organist and choir master at the Fort MacPherson Army Base in East Point, Georgia, until he graduated high school. He was twice soloist in the Atlanta Symphony Youth Concerts during his high school years.

He received his bachelor’s degree in piano at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, as a pupil of Thomas Brockman; he also studied the organ with Catherine Crozier. Grants from the French government enabled him to study in France with the legendary pedagogue, Nadia Boulanger, as well as distinguished pianists Robert Casadesus and his son, Jean.  He then became a Fulbright Scholar at the Academy of Music in Vienna as a pupil of Richard Hauser. Upon his return to the United States in 1965, he earned the degree of Master of Divinity from Nashotah House Seminary in Wisconsin and spent several years in the parish ministry. He later became a Catholic, and was awaiting ordination in 1972 when Emilie Spivey, herself an organist and the founder of Spivey Hall in Morrow, Georgia, heard him perform.  She encouraged him to work with the iconic American organist, Virgil Fox, thereby launching his extraordinary career as a concert organist.

Richard Morris is one of a very small number of organists to have appeared as soloist in Carnegie Hall. Other prestigious New York concert halls that have hosted his performances include Town Hall and Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall. In interviews with Barbara Walters on NBC’s Today show, he appeared with Carol Channing, Eartha Kitt, Dame Cleo Laine and Bing Crosby. He gave concerts on four occasions at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., including the special concert series celebrating the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter.

For 25 years, Morris performed an average of 50 to 60 concerts a season for Columbia Artists and the Community Concert Associations of the United States and Canada, both as soloist and with his popular organ-and-trumpet program, Toccatas & Flourishes.  He was an acclaimed soloist in performances for national and regional conventions of the American Guild of Organists and with orchestras throughout the country.  As one of Nadia Boulanger’s favorite students, he was asked to play for her American memorial mass in 1979.  In 2005, Morris was master of ceremonies and a featured soloist of the Virgil Fox Legacy 25th Memorial Concert at New York City’s Church of St. Paul the Apostle. 

At Mrs. Spivey’s invitation, Richard Morris served as consultant on the tonal design of Spivey Hall’s Albert Schweitzer Memorial Organ, built by Fratelli Ruffatti of Padua, Italy, and dedicated in 1992. He was named Spivey Hall Organist-in-Residence in 1994, serving also as head of Clayton State’s Organ Department, giving annual recitals, hosting pre-concert talks with visiting guest organists in the Spivey Series, and taking part in numerous special events, including various Clayton State ceremonies and two live broadcasts of the nationally syndicated public-radio program, Performance Today.  With the Spivey Hall Children’s Choir and Dr. Martha Shaw, he performed in the annual December holiday concerts at Spivey Hall, participated in their recording, Homeland, and took part in the Spivey Hall Tour Choir’s performance at the 2001 American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) National Conference in San Antonio, Texas. 

He featured prominently in festival events as part of the Calgary International Organ Competition North American Finals that Spivey Hall hosted in 1988 and 2002, and collaborated in recital with the Atlanta Symphony Brass Quintet as well as in duo recital with organist Hector Oliveira.   Moreover, Morris was the creator of a highly popular program for organ and trumpet, Toccatas & Flourishes, which he performed at Spivey Hall (and toured nationwide) with trumpeters Martin Berinbaum, Mark Hughes, Mark Inouye, Richard Kelly, Raymond Mase, Robert Sullivan, and Scott Thornburg.

Richard Morris was an active recording artist. His critically acclaimed recording releases include:

Toccatas & Flourishes: Organist Richard Morris & Trumpeter Martin Berinbaum (Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta, Georgia; Klavier Records)

Toccatas & Flourishes, Vol. 2: Organist Richard Morris & Trumpeter Martin Berinbaum (Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Newark, New Jersey; R&R Records)

“The New” Toccatas & Flourishes: Organist Richard Morris & Trumpeter Raymond Mase (Seventh Street Theatre, Hoquiam, Washington; R&R Records)

Toccatas & Flourishes, Vol. 4:  Organist Richard Morris & Trumpeter Scott Thornburg (Seventh Street Theatre, Hoquiam, Washington; R&R Records)

In Dulci Jubilo: Organ Music of the Christmas Season (Seventh Street Theatre, Hoquiam,
Washington; R&R Records)

Fugues, Fantasia, and Variations: 19th Century American Organ Works (St. Joseph’s Old Cathedral, Buffalo, New York; New World Records)

Richard Morris at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta: Sonic Fireworks – Music for Organ, Brass, and Percussion with the Atlanta Brass Ensemble (Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta, Georgia; R&R Records)

Richard Morris; Organ Masterpieces from France and Germany: Works by Tournemire, Dupré, Vierne, Bach, and Reubke (Second Baptist Church, Houston, Texas; R&R Records)

Richard Morris – Organist (Bel Air Presbyterian Church, Los Angeles, California; Gothic)

Richard Morris: The Grand Tradition (A.E. Schlueter Pipe Organ, First Presbyterian Church, Savannah; MSR Classics)

 On Spivey Hall’s Albert Schweitzer Memorial Organ, Morris recorded Heavy Organ: Tribute to Virgil Fox for SeeMusicDVD, issued as both a stereo CD and a 5.1 surround-sound DVD with colorful Kaleidoplex Digital Light Organ graphics by Marshall Yaeger – an extension of Morris’ two-concert 2002 Virgil Fox Festival at Spivey Hall.  

Morris' commercial and live-in-concert recordings have been broadcast by American Public Media’s nationally syndicated radio program hosted by Michael Barone, Pipedreams, and selections from his Spivey Hall recitals have broadcast and streamed on the Internet by Public Broadcasting Atlanta’s WABE 90.1 FM.

In addition to his duties at Spivey Hall, Richard Morris served as Organist/Choirmaster at St. Peter and St. Paul Episcopal Church in Marietta, Georgia, and, from 1994, as Church Organist and Georgian Chant/Polyphonic Director at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Mableton, Georgia.  In Rome, he sang in Gregorian Pontifical Institute choir workshops led by Dom Turkle, including a performance for the Holy Father Blessed John Paul II, with whom he had an audience. He attended Catholic music conferences at Ft. Royal, Virginia, and his perspectives on music in the Catholic Church were published in an extended interview with Latin Mass Magazine.

His survivors include his business and touring manager, Robert J. Serredell, Jr., and brother and sister-in-law, B. Ronald and Cynthia Morris.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Join the Friends in Italy this summer for music, food and more

This summer, the Friends of Spivey Hall Travel Program takes us back to Italy for the 2014 Trasimeno Music Festival -- a full week of excellent music in historic venues under the artistic direction of Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt, a favorite Spivey Hall guest artist. 

This will be the Friends' third Trasimeno Music Festival (TMF) visit, and the Festival's Tenth Anniversary.  

This Friends trip is almost sold out (as are tickets for many of the TMF concerts), but we have a handful of places left.  

Want to go?  There's still time and opportunity -- the registration deadline is February 7.

Let me count the ways we enjoy this experience!  

First, the beauties of central Italy, which almost speak for themselves.  TMF events take place in and around the city of Perugia, in the region of Umbria, which is adjacent to (but proudly differs from) Tuscany and Lazio.  This summer, we're staying at a resort hotel, The Hotel Lido Lago Trasimeno, overlooking the lake, with a glass-covered restaurant that extends into the lake in pier-like fashion.  Talk about a relaxing place to sit, eat, drink, and take in the view....ahhh.  Second, we stay put in the same hotel for the week, so there's not a lot of unpacking and repacking; we get settled in, which makes our days and nights easier. 

Third, the concerts are superb.  Angela will give two solo piano recitals (one of which will feature Bach's "Goldberg" Variations") and will perform (in two concerts) the complete keyboard concertos of Bach (including the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto) with the Camerata Salzburg.  Plus there are chamber music performances (including piano quartets by Mozart and Schumann), and an opening all-Mozart concert in the historic Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi with the "Coronation" Piano Concerto and Angela as soloist, the "Coronation" Mass with choir and soloists, and the lovely motet for soprano and orchestra, "Exsultate, jubilate," performed with the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano "Giuseppe Verdi" (which I've heard in prior visits to Milan and really liked) under the direction of British conductor Jeffrey Tate.  (I greatly admire his work on the podium from hearing his "Ring" Cycle in Adelaide as well as concerts at at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara.)  Another highlight of this year's festival is a performance with a distinctly theatrical bent:  Sir William Walton's Facade, to clever (sometimes called "nonsense") poems by Dame Edith Sitwell, featuring an instrumental ensemble and two reciters:  the renowned British soprano Dame Felicity Lott (who will also provide theatrical direction), and a male reciter to be announced.  Click here for complete and up-to-date TMF artist and program details.  Concerts are given in a variety of historic venues, principally the Castle of the Knights of Malta in Magione, where the lucky audience of ca. 200 sits in the brick-lined open-air  cortile (courtyard), with the stars twinkling above. It's truly enchanting and personal in a "Spivey-esque" way, because there's such an intimate connection between artists and the audience.

Fourth, the delicious food and great wines. Che delizia!  The Friends of Spivey Hall TMF ground package includes three multi-course gala dinners planned by the TMF to coincide with the concerts, and a few lunches as well.  There are also opportunities on various days to eat (and explore and shop) as you like.  

Fifth, the excursions.  We get to do and see so much, all organized to mesh with our concert schedule.  We'll take a private boat ride to explore Lake Trasimeno and its islands with lunch included.  We've visiting a vineyard and having lunch on our way up to Umbria from the Rome Fiumicino Airport, and stopping in Orvieto (also known for wine) on the way back.  Plus we'll head over the "spine" of the Appenines to the city of Urbino, an important center of Italian Renaissance art and culture, with an amazing castle to explore.  We'll be touring a cheese factory and having lunch afterwards, and will have walking tours of Perugia and the town on the lake where our hotel is (Passignano sul Trasimeno).  For excursions, we have private English-speaking guides and private coaches.  From his younger days of living in Milan and studying in Florence, Yours Truly still retains some of his Italian to help translate and explain and coordinate things along the way.

Sixth -- but far from the least important! -- is the company of our fellow music-lovers.  As the proverb goes, "Happiness shared is happiness multiplied."  We have found in our Travel Program adventures that the Friends of Spivey Hall who participate truly enjoy the concerts, excursions, and meals more when we experience them together.  For this we thank Friends Council members Susan Hunter and Jeff Adams, who so beautifully organize these trips with Angela and the TMF staff for us.

The ground package starts at Rome's Fiumicino Airport the morning of July 3, 2014, and includes one night of hotel at the Fiumicino Airport to facilitate a return to the US the morning of July 13, 2014.  The per-person ground package is $3600 (double-occupancy) or $4055 (single occupancy) and includes concert tickets, hotel, excursions, group ground transfer, taxes, and gratuities (travelers must provide their own airfare and travel insurance).

In early March, Jeff and Susan will be hosting an evening in Atlanta with Angela, who will not only give us the ultimate insider's preview of the artists and programs she's put together for the 2014 Trasimeno Music Festival, but will also perform some solo piano music for us as well -- a rare privilege, and a perfect prelude to the trip.  The additional tax-deductible donation ($150) to attend this event benefits the American Friends of the Trasimeno Festival.

So join us!  For details of our current itinerary, terms and conditions, registration forms, and the Atlanta evening with Angela, simply email Megan Wefald at  We can only confirm participation in the tour upon receipt of registration form and deposit ($1000 per person).  The final payment is due March 1 -- so if you're interested, don't wait!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Joyce DiDonato @ Spivey Hall on Performance Today

Joyce DiDonato sang Harold Arlen's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" to close her most recent Spivey Hall recital with pianist David Zobel.  American Public Media's Performance Today lets us enjoy it again.  It aired yesterday (January 16, 2014) in the second hour of the broadcast, available for about a week online.

Click here to listen.  It's at the very end of the hour -- you can move the play bar over to fast-forward if you're short on time (the Copland Clarinet Concerto is an exquisite piece, worth a listen, too). 

In her remarks to the audience, Joyce reminds us of the importance of dreaming -- and how Emilie Spivey's dream created an extraordinary recital hall in Morrow, GA.  Who would have thought?  Thank you, Joyce, for your wise words and gorgeous singing.  The audience was utterly enraptured. 

I generally hear PT when I'm at home, but yesterday I was in New York to attend a Carnegie Hall performance celebrating Marilyn Horne's 80th birthday, featuring a plethora of superb singers, many of whom (Frederica von Stade, Samuel Ramey, Renee Fleming, Isabel Leonard, David Daniels, and Jamie Barton) have also performed in recital at Spivey Hall -- as well as pianists Marty Katz and Warren Jones.  More on this in a bit.  So many good things happening at Spivey Hall at the moment -- much to blog about!