Last fall, the Kennedy Center inaugurated its new organ with a festive free concert. But they didn’t do much with it afterwards. Two “postlude” concerts lasting about half an hour, tacked on after Thursday night National Symphony Orchestra performances and not heavily publicized (certainly not on the KenCen website) appeared to be the bulk of the offerings, beyond the usual run of choral Christmas concerts.
This season, the Kennedy Center is trying to do a little better by its new instrument -- even a lot better. The NSO already announced that its season-opening ball would culminate with a movement from Saint-Saëns’s Organ Symphony, featuring the brilliant soloist Cameron Carpenter, who is breaking into the mainstream with a combination of virtuosity and offbeat, unpredictable, iconoclastic presentation, and who just played a solo recital at Strathmore this spring. Now, the Kennedy Center has officially announced that Carpenter will be returning for another solo recital on October 16. Also appearing in recital, in February, will be America’s other most famous organist, Paul Jacobs, who counterweighs Carpenter’s bad-boy image with a choir-boy demeanor; an equally formidable player, he was also Carpenter’s teacher. The season’s third recitalist is a successful Latvian organist named Iveta Apkalna. Now we’re talking.
There will also be three more postlude concerts after NSO performances; three Millennium Stages performances featuring the organ, and a couple of individual organ pieces cropping up on NSO programs. So, yes, there will be more organ programming than there’s been this year. Something else notable: the low prices. Most of the abovementioned events are free, or free to NSO ticketholders; the three big-name recitals are the only exceptions, and they cost a mere $15. One would like to see in this a democratic message rather than an implication that there isn’t much of a market for organ music.
It seems to me, however, that the Kennedy Center has missed an opportunity for community building and getting its new organ on the map. Washington is a town full of organists, and all of them would be happy to try the Kennedy Center’s new organ. If I were programming, I’d schedule a festival of local organists, one every few weeks, even perhaps having each organist play the same program twice, once on his or her regular church instrument, and once on the Kennedy Center organ. Only a very few people would want to go to both, but each concert would help to raise the artist’s and instrument’s visibility and help generate some energy in the community.
However, since I’m not programming, I will announce myself very happy with a chance to hear Carpenter and Jacobs in a single season, and be content.