Kotzschmar Organ Recital: Portland, ME.

Cyrus Curtis Connection: Outstanding Organ and Organist

By Mary Elizabeth Nordstrom

Portland, ME, 3 August 2010. The “Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ” presented Ahreum Han in concert at Merrill Auditorium. Ray Cornils, Portland Municipal Organist, introduced Ms. Han, explaining that while her name was listed on the program, she had expected to play only three selections. However, the featured organist of the evening had injured his hand in a bicycle accident, and doctor’s orders insisted that he not use it for this concert in order to insure recovery.

Ms. Han actually had under her feet – and fingers, so to speak, a completely memorized concert program that she adapted to Kotzschmar organ possibilities as soon as she was contacted. Both listed organists are products of Curtis Institute, where all who attend are highly talented scholarship students. The same Cyrus Curtis, publishing magnate, who named the Institute actually gave the Kotzschmar memorial organ to the City of Portland, Maine. Thus the evening’s concert title: Curtis Connection.

The piece de resistance of the evening filled the entire second part of the program after Intermission: namely, “Fantasia and Fugue on ‘Ad nos ad salutarem” S.259 by Franz Liszt (1811-1886). Arms outstretched at either side of keyboard, she dramatized significant sections of pedal work. The organist played up a virtual storm, each time she returned to using both hands and feet at the keyboards, completely involving the audience in a responsive standing ovation.

This called for one very special encore following which she was reluctantly allowed to make her exit. Hamburger Totentanz, from Trois Préludes Hambourgeois für Orgel (1987) by Guy Bovet delighted me more than anything on the planned program. I had never heard it, and she hadn’t announced the name, but when Ray Cornils told me later that the motif represented a dance of death, I immediately understood the joy of it.

To list the balance of the program:

The opening organ work was an organ transcription of the “Overture to Oberon” by Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826). A suspenseful opening led to a rollicking theme, eventually to another familiar tune that resonated with the audience as it reached full orchestra proportions. A smashing way to begin!

Chanson de Matin, Op.15, No.2, by Edward Elgar (1857-1934) was written for piano and violin. This organ transcription made a quiet contrast that showed a different dimension of sound from the mighty Kotzschmar organ. She explained that it had been written during Elgar’s early years of composition.

Allegro Deciso from Evocation Op.37 by Marcel Dupre (1886-1971) was one of his most popular works. It was dedicated to the composer’s father. The third movement of this work was placed here to show the contrasting power of the Kotzschmar organ; there were impressive pedal interludes.

Valse Mignon, Op. 142, No.2 by Sigfrid Karg-Elert (1857-1953) was written in the style of cinema music concerning which the composer had virtually apologized for departing from his usual style. However, the artist succeeded in the purpose of the music that Karg-Elert stated by producing “intoxicating colors and harmonies.”

Two of Louis Vierne’s (1870-1937) from Pieces de Fantasie pour Grand Orgue followed: Clair de Lune Op.53, No.5 and the Carillon de Westminster, Op. 54, No. 6., the one simulating moonlight and the other repeating the melody of the famous carillon. They made a dramatic programmed conclusion to the first part of the program prior to intermission.

Ms. Han has concertized widely. Born in Seoul, Korea, she moved with her family to Atlanta, GA at the age of sixteen. Her Bachelor’s degree in organ performance is from Westminster Choir College where she studied with Ken Cowan. She holds an artists’ diploma from Curtis Institute where she studied with Alan Morrison. From September 2010, Ms. Han will become principal organist, Artist-in Residence and Assistant Music Director at First Presbyterian Church, Davenport, Iowa. She has served as organist at a number of places including Marquand Chapel at Yale Divinity School and the Berkley Divinity School of Yale University. She currently serves at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Stamford, Connecticut.