Easter 2024

06 November 2007
Scott, John - fussiness of
When Dallas built the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, nothing would do but equipping it with the best pipe organ money could buy. Now we're lucky to hear the big C.B. Fisk organ in a solo recital once a year.

Cantrell, Scott. "Fussiness dampens organist John Scott's power". Dallas Morning News, 1 Nov 2007.

An interesting remark, but one that doesn't really surprise me. Texas tends to be all about the show and all about the money. One might say it's a "show me the money" kind of state. The Meyerson Fisk certainly displays a great deal of money donated by the Lay's potato chip family. And don't get me wrong -- it's a great organ, but one that is better seen than heard. Texans aren't really interested in "hearing the money" after all.

I'm picking on Texas here because it's fun. Really, this is the kind of thing I imagine happens everywhere. Having an organ in a concert hall is a great idea, one grounded in the past and the future, but not the present. Concert halls have historically had nice organs in them, so concert hall designers naturally want an organ in their hall. If they don't put an organ in, they reason, they'll wish they had later when the conductor wants to sell out a concert with the Saint-Saens "Organ" Symphony, but lacks an instrument.

And certainly those concert halls built with organs do use them from time to time; mostly in big, showy "organ & orchestra" pieces like the Saint-Saens and a handful of others.

But as far as the concert hall organ as a recital instrument? This is a harder sell. Dallas is living through the Meyerson organ's first decade, and Scott Cantrell, the reviewer, is among those who are unhappy with how often the instrument is heard in a solo capacity (or maybe even with orchestra?). I'm sure there are all kinds of reasons why the organ isn't heard all that often, chief among them being hall availability/expense and the organ's unpopularity as a solo instrument. These two factors in combination set the stage for the reality of "a solo recital once a year" if we're lucky.

As if on cue, hot-shot Julliard organ professor Paul Jacobs sounds off to the Morning Call: "I've always believed that if watching people hit a golf ball around can be embraced by the public and have such a large following, surely the organ, played in an exulting manner, should be able to attract an equal audience in terms of size".

As orchestras more carefully market their programming to their audiences, they also manipulate organ programming. The organ, rather than an instrument of artistic merit, is used as another avenue to bring people into the concert hall (where they can then be sold on the halls beauty, and the affordability of other concerts held there). One such ploy, as I see it, is the accompanying of silent movies around Halloween time. There's nothing wrong with this, per se, but (hypothetically) given that the organ in the concert hall is not a theater organ, and given that this is the only time the organ is heard by itself, then yes, this is gimmicky. An improvised film accompaniment, even when done well, lacks the variety and artistry of a varied program of organ repertoire.

But then there's John Scott, who Dallas brought in to play the back 9 on the Meyerson. So, how does John Scott fair in his Dallas recital? Is he as exciting as Tiger Woods?

Mr. Scott's virtuoso technique was everywhere in evidence, and there certainly wasn't a dull moment. . . He got a standing ovation.

Good -- but is that good enough?

Stylistically, though, this was baroque playing of a kind that came and went in the United States two decades ago.

. . . [I]n the 1970s and early '80s some organists tried to outdo one another in breaking up lines with fussy articulations and clipped pedal notes.

Scholarly players have long since moved beyond this kind of point-making, but not, it seems, Mr. Scott.

More freely written passages . . . were turned into extravagant taffy pulls.

This was a burlesque of historically informed performance practices, artifice choking art.

Wow. And this choked art gets a standing ovation?

. . . yes, a treatment of Standing Ovation Syndrome (SOS) is long overdue . . .

Even if organists can't all play up to Paul Jacobs's standards (and who can?) somehow I think that concert hall committees will continue to build organs.

But they'll be fussy about it. It's always fussiness when it comes to the organ.

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You're brilliant. I need thee every hour.
That is quite an organ -- I sang in that hall on my choir tour junior year.

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