For Young Organists, a Chance to Be Heard

For many young organists, the only time they play in a concert setting is during a competition. According to University Organist Ron Ebrecht, “They win the competition but then they have nowhere to perform their concert for an audience.”

Giving young organists this valuable opportunity is the inspiration behind Young Organ Virtuosi, celebrating its tenth anniversary of biennial concerts. This year’s guest artists are Adam Pajan, who will perform works of Tournemire, Franck, Demessieux, Bach and Reger on Friday night and Jacob Benda, who will perform works of Bach, Franck, Alain, and Guillou on Saturday evening. Pajan studied at Furman University in South Carolina and is now completing a Master’s program at Yale. Benda began as a pianist but over the course of his college career became enamored of the organ and has been playing ever since.

With the Young Organ Virtuosi concerts, these artists will get a chance to play in a non-competitive atmosphere. Not that the selection process isn’t rigorous–but Ebrecht says he doesn’t exclusively book competition winners. He also takes people who have placed second in competitions, because he says those people can be “more musical than the people who won the competitions. Sometimes the people who win are so concentrated on playing the right notes, they don’t make them into music.” In this setting, Ebrecht hopes to offer a more congenial atmosphere focused more on the music and less on status. “There are no razorblades between the keys,” he says. “They get to be nice to each other.”

It’s not just the friendly atmosphere that makes the concert a different kind of experience. In the past five or six years, the program has expanded to include other events beyond the Wesleyan campus. People who have previously performed now host their own editions of the event, and in March this year’s two guest artists and Ron will travel to Seattle to play a Young Organ Virtuosi concert at the University of Washington.

The event is also unique for its involvement of Wesleyan students. Organ classes at Wesleyan are consistently enrolled to capacity; many students, about half of whom are music majors, return year after year. Ebrecht is deeply committed to engaging his students in all aspects of organ performance. This year students will also be learning about the technical side of the organs helping to restore the console of the recently donated second practice organ in addition to performing in the annual Organ Romp, the student performance associated with the course. With the Young Organ Virtuosi Concert Series, Wesleyan organists have the opportunity to perform in a Saturday afternoon recital.

Ebrecht is constantly reminding students of where they can go with their organ playing. He is an extremely accomplished musician who’s played all over the world–this August he’ll be playing a Bach recital in Erfurt, Germany on one of the few organs Bach actually played that is still in original condition–and the practice organ in the lower level of the chapel is surrounded by posters of where he has played. “It’s fun for students when practicing to see where they could potentially go,” he says, and with the Young Organ Virtuosi concert they’ll get another chance to learn about the possibilities by interacting with other organists their age, hearing about their experiences in conservatory programs and what it’s like to work as an organist.

Young Organ Virtuosi
Friday, February 12, 8pm and Saturday, February 13, 4pm & 8pm
Memorial Chapel
Free Admission

Pamela Tatge
Director, Center for the Arts