The Washington Post

A tale of two organs

In Wednesday’s Washington Post, I write about yesterday’s delivery to the Kennedy Center of a new organ by Casavant Freres — who happen to be finishing up the installation of another new organ in Washington, at St. John’s Church in Georgetown. You can hear the Kennedy Center organ at its inauguration on November 27th; the St. John’s organ will be dedicated on September 29th, and a new concert series will begin there in October.

It was only a few years ago that the Kennedy Center’s organ situation seemed hopeless, and it’s rather amazing that they were able to resolve it so quickly. For those who question why a Canadian company has built an organ for American’s purportedly national concert hall, here’s one reason why: Casavant had built the organ for another entity that was unable to use it, so the instrument existed, needed a home, and was available faster and cheaper than a newly commissioned one would have been. (The estimate for a brand-new organ in 2009 was between $3 and $5 million; the Rubenstein Organ, however, cost $2 million.)

Both the Kennedy Center organ and the St. John’s organ were given by single private donors — the Kennedy Center organ by the center’s board chairman, David M. Rubenstein; the St. John’s organ by John Van Wagoner, a member of the congregation for 60 years, and father-in-law of the organist J. Reilly Lewis. When the church was thinking about buying a new organ, Lewis made a YouTube video explaining the importance of a pipe organ as opposed to an electronic one, and his father-in-law found it so convincing that he decided to donate the new organ himself. “My wife says she’s so glad her inheritance is going toward a worthy cause,” Lewis jokes.

Above: J. Reilly Lewis mades a case for pipe organs.

Edited to add: In the DC Performing Arts Examiner, Patrick D. McCoy speaks to Casavant Frere’s Jacquelin Rochette about the Kennedy Center organ-- though Rochette appears neither to confirm or deny the rumor that the instrument was originally intended for the Metropolitan Baptist Church.

In other recent news: Stephen Brookes reviewed the recital of Davitt Moroney as the Westfield Harpsichord Competition gets underway at the University of Maryland.

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