“The organ [at Christ Church, Rochester NY] is a unique instrument, not only because of its lovely sound, but also because it is a nearly exact copy of a late Baroque organ built by Adam Gottlob Casparini of East Prussia in 1776. The original stands in the Holy Ghost Church in Vilnius, Lithuania. There is no other contemporary organ quite like the one at Christ Church.” These were the remarks of Guy Gugliotta, writer for the New York Times in a recent editorial entitled New Pipe Organ Sounds Echo of Age of Bach.
My brother-in-law who lives in Delaware spotted the article in the NY Times and immediately sent an email to tell me he found another reason to come and visit us in Rochester—to which I wittily replied, “Like you need another reason?” But he was truly impressed—as was I. Having walked past the Christ Church on East Avenue a zillion times before, I’m embarrassed to say I had no idea there was such a local treasure inside. So last week, my family and I decided to break tradition and attend a 10 o’clock Christmas Eve service just so we could witness the Craighead-Saunders Pipe Organ first hand. My brother-in-law was so jealous…
Story of the Craighead-Saunders Organ
The Eastman School of Music had long wanted a new instrument for Christ Church . In 1998, David Higgs, head of the Eastman organ department, met Dr. Davidsson, the founder of the Goteborg Organ Art Center in Sweden. The center specializes in reconstructing historic organs. In 2000, Dr. Davidsson joined the Eastman faculty, and he and Mr. Higgs decided to expand the school’s organ collection. They formed a partnership with Goteborg and enlisted expertise from several American organ builders.
The team wanted to make a replica of an organ from the high Baroque, like one that Bach himself might have played. The instrument from Vilnius, Lithuania was chosen as the model for several reasons. First, although it was modified during the 19th century, it had never been restored and had seldom been repaired, so it was easy to see exactly how the original was built. Second, it was in virtually pristine condition so the team could understand how it looked when it was brand-new. And third, the instrument they built would have to fit into the west end of Christ Church. When the replica was finally installed, it was perfect — 25 feet across and 24 feet tall, stopping just short of the rose window at the church’s west end. From the altar, sunshine appears to burst from the organ’s central pinnacle. “It was meant to be,” Dr. Davidsson said.
It took four years to make the parts in Goteborg. Meanwhile, back in Rochester, specialty cabinet-makers built a new organ balcony using lumber salvaged from a 19th-century South Carolina factory. Digital scans would enable the team to reproduce the carvings of the Vilnius cabinet, including the statue of King David above the console. And German specialists painted the exterior wood surfaces with 18th-century-style gesso. The organ arrived in Rochester in 2007 and took a year to assemble.
Making its debut in October 2008, today the organ is used for Mass, choral accompaniment, and as a teaching instrument for Eastman students — the only opportunity they have in the United States to play an organ that is, in all respects, a Bach-era instrument.
The instrument would be named after the Eastman organ teachers David Craighead, now retired, and Russell Saunders, who died in 1992, and whose family left the school $500,000 to begin the project at Christ Church. In all, the replica would cost $3 million. Upon feeling the sensation of its awesome sound ripple through me on Christmas Eve, I’d say it was worth every penny.
A Treasure for all of Rochester
Even if you’ve never stepped foot inside of a church before in your life, I’d strongly suggest making an exception in this case. All services at Christ Church are open to the public and one of our readers, Carlos, recommended paying a visit on January 10 at 7pm for the “Twelfth Night Celebration” . Billed as the official closing of the Christmas season, the sights and sounds are certain to warm your soul.
Tags: Adam Gottlob Casparini, Bach, Baroque, Christ Church, Christmas Eve, church, Craighead-Saunders Pipe Organ, Delaware, downtown Rochester, Dr. Davidsson, East Avenue, Eastman School of Music, Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, Goteborg Organ Art Center, Greek Revival, Guy Gugliotta, Holy Ghost Church, Lithuania, National Register of Historic Places, New York, New York Times, NY, organ, Prussia, Rochester, Rochester NY, Stephen Kennedy, Sweden, University of Rochester, UofR, Vilnius
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