Bach to Bossa Nova — Dancing Feet & Flying Fingers: Kimo Smith at the Organ

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Anyone who assumes the organ to be an instrument of lethargic sad music was completely surprised to find quite the opposite at the Organ Concert at St. Dunstans Episcopal Church on October 15. As Rev Rob Fischer said in his opening welcome message to the audience. “It has been twelve months since the Dobson Organ Company voiced and installed our new organ.” Although Lynn Dobson, the organ builder, jokes that it is basically a box of whistles, there are over a thousand pipes in this organ and their orchestral sounds of flutes, strings, brass and reeds are authentic and pure. Dr Smith thanked the congregation and leadership for their courage in making it possible to acquire this instrument. Then we got to hear its full and extraordinary range. As Rev Fisher said about Smith, “He has the touch.”

The concert began with a Postludio for full organ written by Ariel Quintana for Dr. Smith. This is a boisterous, beautiful work whose unabashedly dissonant chords and sweet interior harmonies are a revelation of modern chordal structure and tonal beauty. It was an exciting beginning.

Immediately afterwards, we heard Bach’s familiar Prelude and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565. Like Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, this Prelude & Fugue has a distinctive opening that is instantly recognizable. The work received a riveting rendition full of dash, verve and intensity. About this work, we learned from Dr Smith, a college professor of music, that the piece was discovered by Felix Mendelssohn 90 years after Bach’s death, so several generations missed out on this work. We can give thanks that it was rediscovered.

Then followed a musical tour of the British Isles, beginning with Scotland’s “O Waly Waly,” a folk tune hymn based on 1st Corinthians 13 “The Gift Of Love.” Dr Smith told us this is not a happy tune. Also known as “The Water Is Wide,” it is a complex and pensive arrangement by Andrew Unsworth, one of three principle organists at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City since 2007. The impression we received was shimmering, sheer gorgeousness.

After this impressionistic beauty came a peppy March for Military Band (England and Wales) by Gustav Holst and transcribed by Randall Harlow. I could see audience members tapping and nodding to the beat. It was fun! One of the most beautiful highlights of the concert was Dr. Kimo Smith’s arrangement of “Londonderry Air” (also known as “Danny Boy”). The registrations were exquisite and the harmonic accompaniments were magical constructions of thick beauty. I was so immersed in this experience I found myself holding my breath in order not to miss a moment of it.

After this British Isles experience came an anomaly known as “Jazz for Pipe Organ.”
Called “Organ, Timbral and and Dance.” Two of the three Preludes were dedicated to Dave Brubeck (#1) and Leonard Bernstein (#3) and this is where the Bossa Nova and Afro-Cuban styles emerged. Dr. Smith has an amazing rhythmic precision that permitted him to carry a tune in the foot pedals during all of these tricky rhythms. At times it seemed that every finger and every toe was fully engaged in dexterous displays of technical mastery .

After this display of virtuosity Dr. Smith played a Prelude and Fugue by Maurice Duraflé in honor of “Alain,” a friend killed in 1940 during World War II. It was modern, yet not jarring, and the first five notes of both movements were altered spellings of Alain’s name. The interplay of flutes and full registrations was glorious, with again, the full range of the instrument being displayed by Dr. Smith.

The concert ended with a Tocatta by Canadian composer Denis Benard. This was a piece of modern music that was extremely challenging, yet Dr. Smith maintained a rhythmic integrity throughout this difficult masterpiece. The moment it ended the audience was on its feet with extended applause and cheers.We had witnessed true artistry. As a Rev Fisher put it,” We decided to take chance on beauty!” We are so grateful they did.

The next concert in this series will be November on 13 with Dr. Angela Kraft-Cross.Tickets are $20.

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