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Organon Novus: Contemporary Organ Works by American Masters

25 Years, 25 American composers, 25 Compositions shattering conventions of organ music and paving the future for the "King of Instruments"

The Latest Update

Final Recording Session scheduled – May 8

Posted on April 12, 2017 by Randall Harlow

After a hiatus this past year due to the birth of a child, we have scheduled the final recording session in Rockefeller Chapel on Monday, May 8th.  To be recorded are works by Bolcom, Johnson, Lennon, Mamlok, Ueno, and Zorn.  Following this final session with engineer Hudson Fair we will  complete the editing process to get the master to Innova for production by the end of summer!

More Updates ▼

Copland Fund grant awarded

Posted on May 17, 2016 by Randall Harlow

ORGANON NOVUS was just awarded a generous recording grant from the Aaron Copland Fund for Music.  This will fund the production and manufacturing of the CDs, to be produced and released by Innova Recordings.

Meanwhile, the final recording session for the remaining seven pieces has had to be pushed back due to the imminent arrival of a baby!  I plan to complete this final recording session in late Summer or early Fall so as to send the CDs to production by the end of this year.  Stay tuned for updates and more audio samples in the months ahead!

Second Recording session completed – NEW MEDIA

Posted on January 4, 2016 by Randall Harlow
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I completed a second recording session on October 27.  The remaining six pieces will be recorded at a final session this Spring.  

NEW MEDIA “Sizzles” by Alvin Lucier for organ and resonant percussion. Sizzles epitomizes Alvin Lucier’s approach of setting up an aural situation where acoustic bodies and architectural spaces freely resonate in indeterminate ways. The work calls for several drums to be set up with beans, paper clips, or other light object on their heads. The resonance of the drums is amplified in the acoustic space as they are excited by the long tones, beats, and interferences improvised by the organist. Recorded with the collaboration of percussionist Matthew Andreini. 

Second recording session scheduled, November 15

Posted on October 27, 2015 by Randall Harlow

The second recording session is scheduled at the University of Chicago on Sunday, November 15.  In this session I will record works by Sam Adler, Joan Tower, Matt Darriau, Ursula Mamlok, Aaron Travers, John Zorn, and Jonathan Schwabe – the latter with trumpet player Randy Grabowski.  

New Media to follow!

Expansion to third disc: 25 Years, 25 American composers, 25 compositions

Posted on October 12, 2015 by Randall Harlow

In order to include several additional additional world premiere recordings, I have decided to expand the project to a third disc, at the same time expanding the scope from 20 to 25 years-composers-compositions.  This round, quarter-century framework will permit the inclusion of first recordings of several more compelling works by American Masters, bringing the total world-premiere tally to twenty works:
Matt DarriauDiapason Fall
Tom Johnson55 Chords
Jonathan SchwabeNew and Improved Dances (with Randy Grabowski, tumpet)
Ken UenoAn Idea of Order
A fifth additional work will be announced soon

Concert and premiere at Stanford University – January 27

Posted on September 17, 2015 by Randall Harlow

On Wednesday, January 27th, 2016, I will perform a number of works from Organon Novus on a concert at Stanford University, including the world premiere of John Anthony Lennon’s Misericordia.  Stanford Memorial Church features two outstanding organs in contrasting styles: a large, early 20th-century symphonic organ by Murray M. Harris Co, and a landmark Baroque organ by Charles Fisk from 1984.  The two instruments will show off the diverse range of styles  among these recent American compositions.

First Recording Session Completed

Posted on July 1, 2015 by Randall Harlow

On May 9th-10th I completed a two-day initial recording session at Rockefeller Chapel with Hudson Fair as recording engineer.  During this time I was able to record fourteen works, including with collaborators Stephen Burns on trumpet and Matthew Andreini on percussion.  Currently in Germany on a summer research fellowship, I am continuing to prepare the remaining works for recording, with a target date of late October for the second recording session.  Media to be posted soon!

Overview

This project presents the most comprehensive recording ever made of contemporary American organ composition. Featuring twenty world premiere recordings, as well as the only Barlow Prize commission for organ, the project presents works by major, non-organist composers representing the full diversity of styles prevalent in contemporary American classical composition. The goals for this triple-disc release, my debut recording, are twofold:

  • Provide a showcase for current composers to hear what some of their most esteemed colleagues have written for the instrument, hopefully inspiring fresh interest in composing for the organ.
  • Present top-notch, but regrettably little known, American masterworks to organists, organ music enthusiasts, and contemporary music aficionados new to the organ, building renewed interest in new music for the organ.

Organon, “the device”: the original Greek word for the instrument from the third century BCE.  From the first-water driven hydraulis to later bellows-driven instruments, the pipe organ’s history and identity has been defined by the quest to provide the human body maximum artistic control over acoustic sound.  The works on this recording shatter the all-too-common modern associations of the organ with churches and staid liturgical music, showcasing instead how twenty-five American composers have taken a fresh approach to the organ as the ultimate acoustic musical instrument, what Mozart called “the king of instruments”.

As a performer I am particularly attracted to works by non-organist composers, works which refreshingly avoid the well-worn gestures and techniques oft overused by incorrigible organists.  Rather, works by non-organists such as those in this project often present novel and challenging figurations, eliciting compelling new sounds from the instrument.  To be recorded in 2015-2016 on the historic 1928 Skinner organ in Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago, the composers and works in this recording illustrate the widest diversity of compositional styles, stretching the sonic capabilities of this massive instrument and physical demands of the performer to the limit.

Compositional approaches range from the spectral tapestries and dynamic textures of Bolcom, Thomas and Zorn, to the linear complexity of Adler, Mamlok, and Polansky; from the full-bodied symphonic approaches of Foss, Ran, and Tower, to the eclectic and unique voices of Lang, Lucier and Wolff.

25 years, 25 American composers, 25 compositions
With  Matthew Andreini, percussion, and Stephen Burns and Randy Grabowski, trumpet

* indicates world premiere recording

Samuel Adler, From Generation to Generation *
William Bolcom, Borborygm *
Matt DarriauDiapason Fall *
Lukas Foss, War and Peace *
Jennifer Higdon, Meditation from Ceremonies
Tom Johnson55 Chords *
David Lang, Ordinary *
Libby Larson, On a Day of Bells *
John Anthony Lennon, Misericordia *
John Liberatore, Memetics *
Alvin Lucier, Sizzles with percussion *
Ursula Mamlok, Festive Sounds *
Larry Polansky, Sunday Organ Piece for Church *
Shulamit Ran, Hallel *
Erik Santos, Star Rising *
Jonathan SchwabeNew and Improved Dances with trumpet *
Roberto Sierra, Fantasia Cromática *
Augusta Read Thomas, Angel Tears and Earth Prayers with trumpet
Joan Tower, Ascent
Aaron Travers, Exodus *
Ken UenoAn Idea of Order *
George Walker, Spires
Christian Wolff, Celesta *
John Zorn, Là-Bas *
One more work TBA

 

Project Media

Aaron Travers – “Wedge” from Exodus (recorded at Harvard University)
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Features: Randall Harlow

The second movement of Travers’ monumental Barlow Prize composition, Exodus. The first and only Barlow Prize commission for organ, the work was dismissed as unplayable by the original consortium of performers a decade ago. I gave the World Premiere at the University of Chicago a month prior to this performance at Harvard University.

The work pushes the bounds of technical possibility on the organ. The composer asks the performer to play this movement at a nearly impossible tempo, barreling forward with unceasing kinetic energy.

Aaron Travers – “Swann’s Way” from Exodus (recorded at Harvard University)
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Features: Randall Harlow

The Final movement, Swann’s Way, of Travers’ monumental Barlow Prize composition, Exodus, a work which pushes the bounds of technical possibility on the organ.

This, the final movement, alternates between raucous fantasia sections between the hands and feet and breakneck figuration spanning the organ keyboards. The aim of the work is to mark an “exodus” from traditional organ composition, exploring new figurations and pushing technical challenges to the breaking point.

Shulamit Ran – Hallel (recorded at Harvard University)
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Features: Randall Harlow

Shulamit Ran’s only organ composition, commissioned by the American Guild of Organists in 2006. It was not played after its premiere until I began reviving the composition a few years ago, working with Ran on the final edition of the score for publication. This performance was part of a series of Fall 2014 concerts at Harvard, Indiana University, and University of Chicago highlighting this and other recent organ compositions by major American composers. Performed in November 2014 on the new Fisk organ at Harvard University.

Start and End Dates

04/10/201506/30/2017

Location

Chicago, Illinois

7 updates
Last update on April 12, 2017

Project Created By

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,…

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Comments

One response to “Organon Novus: Contemporary Organ Works by American Masters”

  1. maya Rose says:

    Nice and very beautifull

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