Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Around the world in 400 years: Jonathan Ryan at the organ

“Tonight, you will hear all the sounds of the organ, a wide range of hues from the tonal palette as I put the instrument through its paces.” So Jonathan Ryan said as he welcomed the audience. The Lincoln Organ Showcasepresented the concert last night, Sept. 19, O’Donnell Auditorium, to an audience of music-lovers, music students, and many organists from the Lincoln area.
Ryan continued, “I am happy to share the gift of music with you on this King of Instruments.” He explained that the many different musical styles and sounds that the audience would hear came from the fact that he was performing pieces from nearly every period of musical history and from all around the world. “The only period missing is ancient Greek!”
From Sweelinck to Shearing, Ryan gave the audience the sounds of Dutch Renaissance, German Baroque, French Impressionism, American jazz-influence, Romanian-Hungarian-Austrian minimalism, and music from two British composers. More impressive than the thrilling crescendo and climax of Bach’s Sinfonia from Cantata 29 or the virtuosic Etude Coulee of Gyorgy Ligeti, was the intimate, emotional phrasing of the Bach Fourth Trio Sonata’sAndante movement. Ryan referred to this movement in his program notes as “justly...among the most memorable movements from Bach’s hand.” Certainly, it was one of the most memorable movements from Ryan’s performance.
Virtuoso as he is, Ryan programmed many reflective pieces, and one such was George Oldroyd’s chant and psalm based piece which “create[s] seamless harmonies, easily evokes perhaps the rolling hills of the English countryside at dusk.” Surely Ryan’s performance evoked the peaceful countryside for as the piece ended, a sigh escaped from the audience as everyone came back to reality.
The second half featured the monumental work of Maurice Durufle, Prelude, Adagio, et Choral-varie sur le theme du “Veni Creator.” This piece, 22 minutes or more in length, Ryan likened to a 700-page novel, you sit down to read knowing its length and ready to invest your time to follow its development. To assist the audience in understanding this work, Ryan shared his own interpretation of it: “I think that it depicts a journey through life. At first, trying different things, passing on to parts of exquisite beauty, then a struggle.” He identified the Adagio as having one of the most memorable climaxes in 20th-century music, which spirals down, thrust into a new world of a simpler, clearer life, yet still profound and ending with peace, prayer, and ultimately triumph.
After two curtain calls, Ryan gave an encore of a newly composed piece by Arizona resident, Ken Yukl, another piece of exquisite beauty at the hands of Ryan.
The evening of music from different countries and centuries came to a close, and Ryan had given the Lincoln audience exposure to the perfect shaping and expressiveness of his performance—he made the organ speak, and it spoke to everyone’s lives and hopes.

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