From the President — Summer 2016

As of this writing, I am still President of the Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ but you will probably read this after I have stepped down and Tom Cattell will have been installed as my successor. After three years as president, I am glad to turn the reins over to an able compatriot. But I am leaving with some wistfulness.

This has been a remarkable run for me. The organ represents, for me, the highest exemplification of musical performance in the development of western culture. I recently visited the Harvard Museums with the Portland Museum of Art and while there, I asked our guide if I could get to see the Flentrop Organ in the Busch Reisinger Museum. It was built in 1958 as a representation of the great baroque organs built by Arp Schnitger in the 17th and 18th centuries in the churches of northern Germany. The Schnitger organs were the instruments that inspired J. S. Bach and the great organ in St. Jakobi’s Church in Hamburg was his. The Flentrop, installed in a Romanesque chapel in the Busch building on the Harvard campus, is an authentic copy of those great instruments (E. Power Biggs recorded a substantial number of Bach’s works on this organ; many of these recordings were in my vinyl collection).

For me, the next development of consequence in organ building were the great, monumental instruments installed by Aristide Cavaille-Coll in the huge churches and cathedrals of France. They weren’t suited for Bach but they did inspire other great composers such as Camille Saint-Saëns, César Franck and Charles-Marie Widor, whose Toccata from the Symphony No 5 is a must for any great organist’s repertoire.

In the 20th century, the great concert-style church organs of Cavaille-Coll morphed into municipal organs throughout the United States which brought orchestral music to the masses who were not always able to attend symphonic concerts. The Kotzschmar was the first and largest of these instruments and is one of only two still standing.

So the organ has been the instrument of inspiration for the religious communities of Europe, and ultimately the United States. And in the United States it also became the instrument of inspiration for secular audiences as well.

So what a thrill it has been for me to serve as president of FOKO when it had the mammoth and awe inspiring responsibility of resurrecting the Kotzschmar in its centennial year and bringing it back to full and inspiring voice. I will never forget September of 2014 at Merrill Auditorium, standing on the stage between our Executive Director, Kathy Grammer, and the first president of FOKO, Peter Plumb, (both of whom are excellent singers) as we welcomed the Kotzschmar’s return with a sold-out auditorium singing the Star Spangled Banner. It was one of the musical highlights of my life. I cite the two of them and our wonderful municipal organist, Ray Cornils, for being my inspiration throughout my service to the Kotzschmar, and indirectly to the spiritual life of Portland.

And now, Tom Cattell, it’s all yours.

—Larry Rubinstein