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Randall Harlow

Cedar Falls, IA   

Concert organist and research scholar Randall Harlow has long dodged conventional expectations. As a performer, he has eschewed the competition circuit, choosing instead to explore the outer reaches of the organ repertoire, from avant-garde contemporary and electro-acoustic compositions and forgotten works of the past to chamber music, concertos, and transcriptions. Performances have taken him across the US, to Russia, Germany, Greenland, and cathedrals in England. He can be heard on American Public Media’s nationally syndicated radio show Pipedreams.

A specialist in contemporary music, Randall Harlow premiered the first and only Barlow Prize commission for organ, Exodus by Aaron Travers, a work first dismissed as unplayable by its original performing consortium a decade earlier.  His numerous premieres include compositions by John Anthony Lennon, John Liberatore, Shulamit Ran,  and Kaikhosru Sorabji, and the North American premiere of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Himmelfahrt, the First Hour of KLANG. . He is a leading advocate for electroacoustic composition for the organ and has given premieres of works for organ with live-electronics by Steve Everett, Steven Rice, and Rene Uijlenhoet.  Also an avid performer with orchestra, he has performed the organ concertos of Lou Harrison and Chen Yi, as well as the North American premieres of concertos by Petr Eben, Tilo Medek, and Giles Swayne.

His first New Music USA project award, ORGANON NOVUS, to be released in summer of 2018 on the Innova label, features twenty-one world premiere recordings of works composed by major American composers, from Adler to Zorn.  His debut CD, Transcendante, released by Pro Organo, features the world’s first organ transcription of Franz Liszt’s complete Transcendental Etudes, setting a new bar for organ virtuosity.

As a scholar Randall Harlow’s interests include performance studies, with a focus on gesture and ecological theories, and hyper-acoustic instrument performance technology. He was a keynote speaker at the 2017 and 2015 Orgelpark symposiums in Amsterdam, and has presented at conferences at Cornell, Harvard, and Oxford Universities, the International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition (ICMPC), Performance Studies Network (PSN), Porto International Conference on Musical Gesture in Portugal, Göteborg International Organ Academy in Sweden (GOArt), the Westfield Center, and Eastman Rochester Organ Initiative Festival (EROI). He holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the Eastman School of Music, following previous degrees at Emory and Indiana Universities.  Randall Harlow is currently Assistant Professor of Organ and Music Theory at the University of Northern Iowa.

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Himmelfahrt from KLANG – North American Premiere

Stockhausen specifies that the organist’s hands be projected on a large screen obstructing the view of the performers from the audience.

This is Stockhausen’s only composition for full pipe organ, as opposed to synthesizer keyboard. The two hands of the performer are treated independently, each playing complex rhythms and chords in different, changing tempi. The pedals are used for a few melodic lines and long tones. The organist is also asked to strike gongs and singing bowls and rattle bamboo chimes with one hand or the other.

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Rene Uijlenhoet: Dialogo Sopra i Due Sistemi, for organ with live electronics – North American premiere

By Dutch composer Rene Uijlenhoet, this is one of the small handful of extant compositions for pipe organ with full live electronic processing. The work utilizes eight microphones in the organ case, live sound processing through Supercollider, and quadrophonic sound distribution. This performance is the North American premiere of the work, myself on organ with the composer at the laptop and mixing desk.

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Steve Everett: Vanitas, for organ with live electronics – World premiere

World premiere performance of Steve Everett’s composition, “Vanitas”, one of the few works in the organ repertoire to utilize live electronic processing. Several mics are place inside or near the organ case. Utilizing Kyma software, the composer alters, detunes, and otherwise modulates the organ sound in real time, evoking the ephemeral nature of life as depicted by Flemish Renaissance painters. Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas. Recorded at Emory University in Atlanta, GA.

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