Balkans - 2008
Boarding the bus on St. Ronan Street, I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that the academic year had come to a close: in the words of the mystics, that “all manner of thing [was] well,” and that “God moved in the [clean] pots and pans” in my kitchen. Amen. Time now to relax…….
Whether I was ready or not, the study tour to the Balkans kept my mind, feet, and spirit active. Though I was impressed by the well-known choirs and brilliant architecture of these countries, I will focus on the special opportunities to hear and see organs on our trip.
Our expert guide was Mario Penzar, the national organist of Croatia. We first met him and two of his students at a local church in Zagreb, where he introduced us to the small yet rich body of Croatian organ music. I was especially intrigued by the Renaissance music of Andrea Antico, and its strange 8-line bass clef notation. Equally interesting, however, was the lack of organ music after the Renaissance. Penzar noted that organ music came back to the fore around 1920-1950. The music composed then was idiomatically romantic, and for me this seemed to mirror the development of the organ in Spain.
The main excursion for the organists took us high and deep into the mountains. We arrived in Lepoglava, and met again with Mario Penzar at the Church of St. Mary. The brilliant technician played a short concert of early music on a true gem of an instrument. That organ, built anonymously in 1649 in the South German style, made me wonder briefly what was so exciting about the Newberry Memorial Organ in Woolsey Hall! Here, on an organ with fewer than 15 stops, exists everything needed to create subtly breathtaking pieces. Listening, and later trying it out for myself, I felt so connected with the history of my instrument and with humanity listening to the music. The stunning frescoes and history of the church coupled with this wonderful early organ made this excursion a truly formative experience.
The ISM’s itinerary in Buje allowed for visiting one last Balkan organ, played by none other than Mario Penzar. I was so pleased that this time the whole Institute could hear him play on this beautiful Callido organ from 1791, restored in 2000-2001. Before leaving Penzar gave me a brochure about an international organ competition, the “Andrea Antico da Montona.” I realized then that the Balkans, and in particular, Croatia, are committed to the preservation of their tradition of organ artistry. Perhaps some of the Institute’s lovers of early music will enter this competition in the near future.
Parker Kitterman "doing a new thing" in Zabreb
Vaughn Mauren, MM-o ’09, spearheaded a trip that didn’t show up on the official itinerary. He had a contact for churches in Venice, and so during our stopover there on the way home, a small group of us had the good fortune to hear a spectacular Italian organ played by the church’s young organist.
Again, just touching this instrument and considering what we as organists do gave me a great sense of purpose and gratitude. I may have thought I was ready for a break from academics and music, but this tour energized me for more. For those of us who work in the church it might seem ironic, but perhaps Isaiah 43:19 best sums up my spirit: “Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?”
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