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By Culturekiosque Staff

NEW YORK, 2 NOVEMBER 2010 — The musical landscape of New York City is about to be enriched by the arrival of its first French-built organ.  This instrument, designed by master builder Pascal Quoirin, is the result of a worldwide quest for the best possible instrument to meet the unique musical requirements of the Church of the Ascension, both now and in future generations.

The Manton Organ was made possible by a grant from The Manton Foundation and is named in memory of Sir Edwin and Lady Manton, active members of the Church of the Ascension for over 50 years.  The Mantons were avid lovers of music, particularly the music of Olivier Messiaen and other French composers.

The new organ will have 95 stops, 111 ranks and 6,195 pipes, and will be a highly eclectic 21st century instrument, designed to play the largest possible repertory.  There will be a core instrument (Grand Orgue, Positif, Echo/Récit, and Pédale) played by a three-manual mechanical (tracker) action console, with a complement of all the timbres necessary for the French Classical literature, as well as various stops especially intended for German Baroque music.  A second console, with four manuals and electric action, will control the classical core and include many other stops intended for symphonic repertory, including a large French Romantic Grand Récit Expressif.  In particular, the organ was designed to play the works of Olivier Messiaen; every registration that Messiaen calls for in his music will be found in this organ.

The Rev. Andrew W. Foster III, Rector since 1999, states: "The Manton Organ can be regarded not only as a major turning point for the Church, but also as a gift to the City of New York, whose entire musical community – from exponents of early music to today’s and tomorrow’s composers – can weave this instrument into the musical fabric of the city. Just as there are organs in Europe that date back hundreds of years, we hope this instrument will be a resource far into the future."

Why a French organ?

When Ascension’s Music Director, Dennis Keene, began the search process on behalf of the Church, he was not looking for a specific kind of instrument: "We wanted the best organ by the best maker.  The organ had to be able to play the largest possible repertoire, and inspire the creation of new works. We needed an organ for our services and to work with both the Church’s choir and the concert ensemble, Voices of Ascension.  After hearing countless instruments all across the U. S. and Europe, it was clear that Pascal Quoirin was the choice for us."

The Quoirin commission will result in the first French-built organ ever to be installed in New York.  For years, American organists would return from France in awe of the instruments they heard, but when selecting a French-style instrument for their churches, they hired American companies to build them.  There are several "French-style" organs in New York, but not an authentic one from France.

Dr. Keene notes a profound difference between Quoirin’s organs and those of other makers. "The sounds Quoirin’s instruments make are unlike anything we currently have in the United States.  They are unabashedly French, full of color and character, while at the same time completely balanced and nuanced – just like all great French art."  

The luxuriant French romantic and contemporary organ repertoire will now be heard in New York the way its composers heard it themselves. The versatility of the Manton Organ, however, will extend backwards as well, becoming a new resource for the early music community.  Dr. Keene observes, "There are few organs in New York City that play Baroque music well, and there is not one organ in the U.S. that has real French Baroque sounds.  With over 60 stops in the Baroque core, this will be the premier early music instrument in New York City, capable of performing both French and German repertoire to the highest standards."

The organ will be situated in the front of the church on two sides of the chancel, flanking the famous mural by John La Farge, The Ascension of Our Lord.  Four organ facades – two on each side – will include elaborate wood carvings of peacocks, inspired by the peacocks in the marble reredos, which will also refer to Messiaen’s lifelong devotion to birds and birdsong. Two trompettes en chamade (horizontally-mounted sets of trumpet pipes), one on each side of the chancel, will face each other in the manner of the historic Spanish organs.  The mechanical (tracker) console will be stationary, nestled in to one of the facades, perpendicular to the altar; the electric console will be on wheels, at the top of the altar steps, where it can be positioned as needed.  

This dual console arrangement is a unique design feature of the Manton Organ, one of Mr. Quoirin’s ingenious accommodations to the church’s architecture.  He considers each new organ a contemporary work of art, and has a special enthusiasm for new music.  Mr. Quoirin’s workshop of twelve artisans includes his wife, Babou, who executed the wood carvings that will embellish the organ facades. 

The Manton Organ at Church of the Ascension – A Timeline

Sunday, 3 October 2010 – Cargo ship Meta arrives with organ in crates.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010 – Load-in of the organ at Church of the Ascension.  Organ is unpacked and assembly begins.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010 – Voicing of the organ by Pascal Quoirin, pipe by pipe, begins (can take from six weeks to several months).

Sunday, 1 May 2011, 4:00 p.m. – Service of dedication, a Festal Eucharist and blessing of the new organ, with the choir of Church of the Ascension. Dennis Keene will conduct as well as play works of Duruflé, J.S. Bach, and French Baroque composers.

Thursday, 5 May 2011, 8:00 p.m. – Gala dedicatory recital by internationally acclaimed organist Jon Gillock, with French 19th and 20th century music (Dupré, Franck, Cochereau, Vierne, Tournemire, Duruflé, Langlais, Messiaen).

Wednesday, 11 May 2011, 8:00 p.m. – First inaugural organ-choral event, by Voices of Ascension Chorus and Orchestra conducted by Dennis Keene, featuring the organ in French works (Duruflé Requiem and music by Fauré, Poulenc, Boulanger, others).

Thursday, 26 May 2011, 8:00 p.m. – Second inaugural recital by Francis Chapelet, featuring Baroque works from France, Spain and Germany (works by Raison, DuMage, J.S. Bach, and Spanish Baroque composers).

Wednesday, 8 June 2011, 8:00 p.m. – Second inaugural organ-choral event, by Voices of Ascension Chorus conducted by Dennis Keene, in a concert entitled "Pipes and Voices" (Kodály Missa Brevis, Parry I Was Glad, and winners of the 2011 Sorel Composition Competition).

Thursday, 16 June 2011, 8:00 p.m. – Third inaugural recital by Christoph Bossert, featuring German repertory (J.S. Bach, Mendelssohn, Reger, and others).

Monday, 20 June – Friday, 25 June 2011 – First annual Organ Academy.  For the inaugural year, the faculty and the focus of repertory will be all-French, from early Baroque through Messiaen.  Dennis Keene will coach students in French Baroque repertory and the music of Maurice Duruflé.  Jon Gillock will teach French repertory from the 19th and 20th centuries.  Sessions may be audited by members of the public.

All events take place at:

Church of the Ascension
Fifth Avenue at 10th Street
New York, NY  10011

Tickets can be ordered by telephone (1) 212 358-70 60, or
on the Voices of Ascension website: www.voicesofascension.org

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