of Music

Gala Inaugural Celebration
Commemorates Opening of
Concert Hall and Organ

Last evening marked the opening of the Temple of Music, the musical brainchild of Erinn Andrews — musician, scientist, architect, and philanthropist.

The inaugural concert was, naturally, engineered to provide the most mind-boggling introduction possible of this concert hall and its gigantic organ that contains over 100,000 pipes. The magnificent pipe organ and concert hall have been the subject of more speculation — and shrouded with more secrecy — than any other major benefactorial endeavor in the history of music. No details of the instrument were offered the public (other than the fact that the most awesome musical instrument ever conceived was being built) until the night the doors of the Temple of Music opened. Thus, heightened anticipation and animated conjecture surrounded and permeated last night’s opening ceremonies.

Great hordes of musicians, organists, artists, curiosity-seekers, and of course, the news media from around the globe, congregated on the massive marble steps leading up to the main entrance, anxiously waiting for the moment to arrive when the hall would open for the first time. However, the doors to the Temple were kept locked until the announced opening time.

At precisely 7:00 p.m. the front doors opened; ushers greeted the concertgoers and escorted them through the spacious, yet austere lobby. Indeed, the airy, well-lighted foyer was nearly barren. This spartan setting, however, provided a perfect and non-distracting foil for the dozen large frescoes which grace the expansive walls. These commissioned art works depict some of the great organists of history. We found it quite peculiar and astonishing that perhaps the greatest organist of all time — J.S. Bach — had not been included in the collection! Most puzzling, indeed, we thought.

The ushers led us into the great concert hall.

The physical setting for this undisputed King of the King of Instruments is breathtaking. According to program notes, the concert hall is 371 feet long, 210 feet wide and 317 feet high. An immense dome, 173 feet wide and 137 feet deep, crowns the ceiling of this gargantuan hall.

When the audience was first allowed into the hall, the level of ambient light was rather subdued, so that details of the concert hall interior were not readily apparent. Several large groups of organ pipes seemed to be located up in the dome, but it was too dark to be sure. Some people speculated that perhaps these were paintings or frescoes.

The acoustics of this hall are perfectly suited for containing the massive sonorities of a concert organ. The gentle, buzzing roar of the audience’s chatter as they found their seats and gasped at the hall’s immensity blurred into a nonstop, surf-like drone that displayed the extremely resonant character of the room. And let it be noted that this stunning acoustic space was not come upon by accident! The design and spatial relationships of the great cathedrals of Europe were drawn upon when creating this grand musical space. Not only is the actual shape — long, tall and narrow — perfect for supporting and projecting organ tone; in addition there are no carpets, acoustical tiles, draperies or chair cushions to soak up precious seconds of reverberation. It is perfectly clear that in this setting, everything else is subservient to the organ.

The hall, like the foyer, is most certainly minimalist in its design. All the colors in the marble floor, hard-tile walls and frescoed hard-plaster ceiling are muted, warm - but neutral - tones. The entire visual effect was calculated to draw attention to the crown jewel of this magnificent setting — the organ.

(The one thing that seemed rather curious was that the entire back wall of the concert hall, through which the audience entered, was shrouded in heavy, thick folds of crimson drapery. This gluttonous wash of velvet seemed absurdly misplaced in this otherwise hard-surfaced, reflective auditorium.)

The expansive organ case stretches 137 feet wide and 73 feet high across the front (or south) end of the hall. The gleaming copper and silver pipes, many over 30 feet long, offer a stunning feast for the eyes! Beautifully gilt and vibrantly hued angelic sculptures dance; play harps, tambourines and drums all across the reddish-brown mahogany casework: Some of these delightful figures cap the very tops of the pipe towers; some hide between the rows of pipes; yet others stoically support the pipes on their shoulders and hands.

A dazzling cluster of hundreds of brass trumpet pipes splay outward and upward into the air from the 73-foot height of the main casework, thus actually rendering the total height of the case well over 90 feet high. These glistening trumpet pipes were dramatically highlighted by a bank of blazing white spotlights.

Anticipation rippled as electricity through the crowd as we all keenly awaited the first notes on this musical behemoth.

Cued by some spiritual, psychic signal, the animated roar of gleeful chatter suddenly died down to a rustling whisper.

The long-heralded moment had arrived.

The audience’s subdued whispering instantly died to a stilled, breath-held hush when the houselights slowly faded to total darkness.

After several seconds of tension-building darkness, a single spotlight clicked on, catching in its amber beam a portion of the gleaming marble floor near the foot of the grand organ case. A section of the floor slid back and disappeared. The hue of the spotlight melted from amber to red to yellow and finally to blazing white.

A monolithic five-manual console, with row after row after row of carved stop-tablets terraced around and above the keyboards, majestically rose from beneath the floor. When the console reached floor level, and the opening underneath was covered by its three-stepped pedestal, the spotlight dimmed out, again rendering the hall in total darkness.

A few seconds passed. The spotlight beamed on again; however, this time it was directed onto a man now standing next to this huge console (which, by comparison, made the imposing gentleman appear to be a dwarf). It took only a split-second for the audience to comprehend that this man was Johann Sebastian Bach.

In revered silence, the crowd rose — as one — to its feet in wordless tribute to the musical giant standing before them. Bach humbly bowed; and as he did, applause began: Tentatively at first, as if the people were afraid to break the awe-laden silence; then growing and growing in intensity until a joyous cacophony of human percussion bounced and danced and echoed throughout the reverberant concert hall. It was apparent by the various expressions of awe, delight, surprise and joy that the applause was partly for Bach and partly for this mighty concert hall and organ!

As the applause roared on and on, Bach remained gracefully bowed. When he straightened his back and looked up at the audience the applause came to a gentle stop. He smiled, turned, and made his way upward. He claimed his pilot’s seat at the organ’s gigantic control center. As he settled onto the bench, beautifully hued lighting slowly enveloped the front of the organ case. Simultaneously, the marble pedestal upon which rested the massive console slowly glided upward until that console and that organist towered ten feet above the crowd. Those people who may have worried about not being able to see thus had their concerns allayed! There was not a single person in attendance who could not easily and comfortably view the console in this elevated position.

The moment for the organ to speak arrived.

The crowd fell to silence in uncontained anticipation when the great Bach pushed a series of pistons under the first and second keyboards, and nearly all of the hundreds of rocker-tablets clicked inward.

Bach raised his hands above the manuals and then paused, his fingers not even an inch above the keys. He extended his left foot until it hovered over the bottom-most “C” on the pedal keyboard.

With a slight nod of his head, his fingers and left toe made contact with that towering musical monument.

With an electrifying shout of musical praise, a shimmering, thundering, pulsating C-major chord blasted out from BEHIND the audience! As if with synchronous motion, every single head in the audience whipped around, startled by the source of that staggering chord.

Then every person in that concert hall gasped in uncontrollable awe at the jubilant sight gleaming behind them:

In the preceding darkness, the red velvet drapery had been lifted away to reveal a hidden secret: A second organ case was built into the north (rear) end of the concert hall! But at some 173 feet wide and 210 feet high, this case was staggeringly more enormous that magnificent case in the front. Row upon row of enormous wood and copper pipes, some of them over 60 feet high, stretch up toward the 317-foot-high arched ceiling.

Hundreds more brass trumpets, along with a myriad sculpture formed from thousands of tiny, silvery pipes, crown the top of this gigantic, ornate case. Again, the length and number of these trumpets are exponentially greater than those of the south case and similarly increase the total height of this mega-organ casework to over 250 feet! Countless scores of colorful and gilded angelic sculptures beautifully appoint the lavish case; again, bearing pipes, harps, drums, tambourines and trumpets. This case, indeed, is in effect a mirror of the south case except that it has been reflected through a magnifying mirror that has greatly amplified its size.

Bach held onto that ten-finger chord for a good long moment, allowing the full impact of this staggering architectural and musical feat to sink into the minds and souls of his audience; and allowing the incomprehensible vision to fully resolve and clarify itself to their unbelieving eyes.

Then, finally, he let go, and the music slowly rang off into the acoustical distance.

Bach then proceeded to “go through the organ,” section by section, in a scintillating improvisation: Now a blast from the north trumpets; now a fanfare from those in the south; now a velvety wash of strident string voices from one of the three massive String sections; now an assertive chromatic fantasy on the Great 16-foot Diapason chorus of the south organ; now a heroic reply from the north 32-foot Diapason chorus; and so on, until virtually every section of the organ had been sonically displayed, culminating in a mind- and ear-boggling musical climax that literally took away the breath of everyone seated in that magical Temple of Music.

Then the organ tones gradually descended, down, down, down; softer, softer, softer; lower, lower, lower; until all that was left of the music was the pulsatile purring of the lowest 64-foot Basse grande pipe located in the north organ case. (This massive, square wooden pipe, one in a set of 32, is actually over 64 feet in length and over six feet square.)

As Bach held down this profound note, the lighting in the concert hall subtly changed. The house lights slowly faded again, followed by a gradual extinguishing of the lighting on the organ cases.

When the lights reached total darkness, Bach let go of the trembling 8-cycle note.

Very, very slowly, light began dawning across the massive dome looming up in the ceiling. At first, it appeared as if giant windows had opened to the night sky, as glittering stars and billowing clouds came into view. Then we realized this was the work of a planetarium projection system which was displaying celestial scenes onto the dome surface.

And when ethereal music floated and drifted down from above, we were brought to the shocking realization that the pipes up in the dome, which we had thought to be merely decorative, were very much real! An entire third section of the organ resides up in that lofty space, projecting lush and serene washes of strings, scores of gorgeous, sultry flutes, choruses of Vox Humanae, and stirring percussions. Along with an immense battery of fiery Tubas: From a massively solid three-rank, 32-foot, double-length Harmonic Trombone, (thus the lowest CCCC resonators are over 70 feet long),up through several ranks each of 16, 8, and 4 foot; some of them double- or triple-harmonic length, and crowned by a blazing chorus of reed mutations.

As Bach played this heavenly organ, improvising as it were on the name of “Lizst,” the planetarium scene was that of a clear, midnight sky full of bright, twinkling stars. As his improvisation swelled in intensity and crescendo, the “stars” began to revolve around in a unified circle; slowly at first; then faster and faster, circling inward to the center of the dome, until they all converged as if by inertia into a single point of blazing white light that pinpointed the very apex of the dome.

That apex, that pinpoint of light, suddenly “opened up.” That is, an iris-like opening penetrated the dome and grew outward, larger and larger; and the point of white star-light grew in size along with it. The visual effect was tremendous: It appeared as if the heavens above were unfolding, drawing back to reveal a hidden dimension beyond.

Then came the tour de force, the sight that literally brought the house down: Out of that streaming, glowing hole in the sky descended an enormous, glowing, shining, radiant angelic figure. It processed downward headfirst until it came to rest, seemingly suspended in thin air just outside the unfolded opening, and hovered in the center of the dome.

This huge statue, made of translucent crystal, represents the Angel Gabriel. And it is a staggering rendition indeed. For the statue is 100 feet long and 70 feet wide. From the mouth of this huge image protrude hundreds and hundreds of gleaming bronze trumpet pipes — the largest of which are full-length 32-foot octaves. The angel’s massive hands and arms support and cradle this gigantic Cor de Gabriel reed chorus, the pipes of which point directly downward toward the floor.

When the angelic figure had descended completely into the center dome, all was quiet, still, stopped. Bach had stopped playing; the audience had stopped breathing; and life had stopped moving for a fleeting second as every one of us in that hallowed musical sanctuary contemplated God’s incomprehensible gift to humans of MUSIC.

Then ... the awesome trumpets spoke. With a voice that raised the hair on the backs of our necks. Not because it was frightening — which, certainly in a way it was — but because it was ... fearsome. Words cannot begin to describe that massive angelic figure towering in the heavens over three hundred feet away, poised under the glowing, pulsating hole in the night sky, the dimension-rending tones pealing forth in that room as sizzling licks of hot-white fire. Even as far away from the audience as these trumpet pipes are, their commanding and thrilling voices penetrate right to the core of the listener’s soul.

After Bach played a dazzling “solo chorus” on these majestic trumpets, he coupled them with the resources of the rest of the organ. The all-enveloping veil of sound grew and grew in intensity and volume until that entire, cavernous concert hall shook, vibrated, thudded and echoed under the sonic thunder of this heroic organ.

With a final, triumphant C-chord upon Full Organ, Bach closed his staggering improvisation. As the audience leapt to its feet, the heavenly angel retreated back to its otherworldly sanctuary; the veil in the sky closed and the piercing point of light once more scattered across the heavens as thousands of glittering stars.

This is a magnificent organ and magnificent concert hall. No one who enters that hallowed place and hears that holy instrument will ever be the same afterward. For it speaks right into the heart, the core, the very soul, of humanity’s musical nature and fills it with comforting peace, thrilling light, and blissful rapture.

Surely this undertaking represents the epitome of organ building and the musical evolution of the human race. No musical instrument which came before — or which will come after — will even remotely compare to its inexpressible grandeur.

It was truly an evening to remember and cherish forever.

(To come: The complete and detailed specifications of this instrument.)

Copyright © 2002 by Charles Richard Lester. You are welcome to transmit this material to others for non-commercial use only but only after requesting — and receiving — permission by the author. Please apply to Charles Richard Lester: (change "at" to the "@" symbol). Thank you for appreciating the value of creativity.

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