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.


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