Flentrop Organ at St. Mark

This last weekend, I had the opportunity to travel to Seattle, WA and hear a concert by Thomas Joyce, assistant organist at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral and then listen and play around with the organ. This trip was organized by my teacher, and I definitely felt like the odd man out on this trip; all the other students have had four or five years experience, while I am still playing children’s pieces. Still, I’m glad that I had the opportunity to get up close to this beautiful instrument.
This organ was built by the Dutch organ builder D.A. Flentrop in 1965, and is particularly noteworthy as one of the first large all-tracker (mechanical) action organs built in the 20th Century, and became important in the movement towards traditional organ building practices. It was also the largest organ that Flentrop had built (4 manuals, 55 stops). My descriptions cannot possibly do the organ justice, you need to visit the cathedral in person to truly understand how large the organ appears. The cathedrals ceilings are 85 feet high, and the organ is on a gallery about 20 feet up. That puts the organ at somewhere between 45-55 feel tall. When I think about what was involved in getting all of those mechanical linkages to work across a span of that distance…

A complete stoplist is available from the St. Mark’s Website. Of note are the trompettes en chamade (horizontally mounted), the Rugwerk division that hangs over the balcony of the gallery (according to Joyce, the gallery was made large enough to fit a full orchestra and choir! I’d like to see that.), 32′ flue and reed pipes, and the small, intimate Brustwerk division. I’m still learning the conventions of the organ world, but I think this instrument is built with more of a French romantic tonal pallete in mind. This works really well with the large amount or reverberation that the cavernous unfinished concrete cathedral has.

That’s all technical stuff. Which I don’t even have a solid handle on. I can only really speak to the aesthetics of looking and listening to it. I can tell you that the sound is as overwhelming as the size of the instrument. Joyce played a concert of mostly 19th and 20th century music, and on big dissonant chords, the sound became almost viscerally threatening. On the other hand, it was capable of very tender soft moments as well. I loved its Schalmei, a small reed stop, as well as its string stops (the way that this effect is achieved is by having two pipes playing the same pitch slightly out of tune with each other. It sounds much better than that might suggest).  Visually, it is staggeringly beautiful. Everything is in perfect proportion, and the pipes are covered in unusual oxidation patterns (the story goes that the pipes were constructed with higher-than-normal levels of copper, then soaked in urine to change their color). I don’t know about the historical correctness of inverse-colored keys on the console, but it looks cool too.
If anybody ever gets the chance to hear this instrument, I reccomend it.

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