The rare organ concert review: Cameron Carpenter

Perhaps this isn’t the most traditional look for an organist.

Really, it's probably not. At least, I don't dress this way when I'm playing the organ.

But nonetheless, that’s Cameron Carpenter, whose approach to the organ doesn’t particularly hew toward the norm. And that’s fine with me. Here’s an example of his alternate approach:

I saw him recently at the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel, going with a few coworkers (I mentioned that here, and I’m still grateful — and somewhat surprised — that they were so interested in going). And it was quite an experience.

The organ in Rockefeller Chapel is magnificent, with a rich, full sound and pipes in both the front and back. It had four manuals (plus the pedals) and a crapton of stops. And Cameron used pretty much every one of them, toggling between extremely loud and superquiet-with-just-a-reed-stop-or-two. He played plenty of traditional organ music, but also threw in an organ version of a song that was unfamiliar to me but not to one of my fellow attendees, Rufus Wainwright’s “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk.”

He also played what he said were world premieres of selections from a 10-part opus he’s working on with an outer space theme. They were, indeed, quite spacey, but nonetheless showed quite a bit of range and hit more than missed.

A couple other notes: He greeted and shook hands with everyone gathered in the chapel before the concert, which is a very nice touch. (He also had a meet-and-greet afterward, but I had more than an hour drive home and elected to get driving before storms hit; I did not beat the storms home.) And I think it’s important to note that being an organist can be very grueling, and the pieces he’s picked force him to be in very good shape. Some of these pieces were 10, 12, 15+ minutes long, but he looked like he hadn’t broken a sweat afterward. I know I would have.

Some minor quibbles: I wasn’t convinced his settings were always the best — sometimes his settings ran together and blurred, instead of keeping each sound he was trying to convey distinct. And perhaps it was more the music he chose than his technique (because it sometimes happens in organ pieces that the composer’s time signatures are more like suggestions), but sometimes I lost track of the rhythm of the pieces. Nonetheless, I wish I had but a fraction of the talent he does, and I’m off to iTunes now to get his album.

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3 responses to “The rare organ concert review: Cameron Carpenter

  1. Well said. I just wanna know where I can get a pair of those heels. I know the story, just kidding, but I did ask him that. Coming soon from organ master.

  2. Pingback: There’s something about searching | Pull Out All the Stops

  3. Pingback: Let’s talk about the day job | Pull Out All the Stops

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