REVIEW: Jeremy Filsell's Meaningful Inaugural Organ Recital at St. Thomas Church
Above: The Miller-Scott Organ pipes. Photo by Ira Lippke.
September 28, 2019
By Brian Taylor
Jeremy Filsell, renowned virtuoso on both piano and organ, began his tenure as Organist and Director of Music at St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue last April. This significant post is a crowning achievement, St. Thomas being home to the illustrious St. Thomas Choir of Men and Boys and one of the most prestigious choir schools in the world. His arrival is timely; the beautiful Gothic Revival church boasts a newly rebuilt pipe organ, the stunning Miller-Scott Organ.
In a program reflecting upon the St. Thomas legacy and featuring twentieth-century French repertoire for which he is internationally celebrated, Filsell’s inaugural Grand Organ Recital was an impressive introduction to this accomplished artist and a thorough tour of the capabilities of this instrument.
St. Thomas alum Julian Wachner composed the concert opener, Angelus from Triptych (originally for organ and large orchestra, here in a version for solo organ). Wachner’s music begins with a glimmering pulse, like stardust. As it grows, like an edifice ascending to the heavens, composer and soloist explore every nook and cranny of the massive pipe organ, and seemingly, every way in which dissonance propels the tension onward.
Marcel Dupré’s symphonic poem for organ Evocation, Op. 37 was the evening’s main course, and Filsell’s extraordinary technique and musicality brought out the “symphonic” aspect of the Miller-Scott organ. The organ’s various ranks contain all the colors of an orchestra: delicate flutes, reedy woodwind choirs, glockenspiel, trumpets, and tubas.
Filsell also chose music with ties to New York. Dupré’s pupil, the neglected composer-organist Jean-Jacques Grunnenwald penned Dyptyque Liturgique in the 1950s for nearby St. James Church’s 150th anniversary. Former St. Thomas Music Director Gerre Hancock, dedicatee of the rear gallery Loening-Hancock organ, was represented by Trumpet Flourishes for Christmas. Composed in 1978, the heraldic trumpet stops resounded from the rear of the church with the accumulated tensions of the 1970’s, urging the listener to recalibrate, to focus on the message of the holiday.
The program was not bereft of humor. The real find of the evening was Calvin Hampton’s witty scherzo In Praise of Humanity. Hampton was organist and music director at Calvary Episcopal Church in Gramercy Park until becoming a victim of AIDS. Filsell spoke about Hampton’s “Fridays at Midnight” organ recital series, a remarkable accomplishment in audience building.
Kudos to Filsell for devising a program that did not merely parade transcendent technical skill, nor the Miller-Scott Organ’s sundry wares. This was a celebration of the organ’s relationship with the congregation, as the heart of the community.