Organ recital celebrates London Olympics

Arts / Article

Monica Bonvicini’s ‘Run’ sculpture, in London’s Olympic Park. (Photo from the official site)

Here at my little house on the Rio Blog, I always enjoy hearing from familiar Miami musical voices. And this weekend, because everyone’s attention will be focused the opening Friday of the London Olympics, it’s more than appropriate to bring you word of a musical connection.

The fine English organist Matthew Steynor, who’s been the music director since 2007 at Trinity Cathedral in Miami, performs his own tribute to the spirit of the Games in his native land with his annual summer recital, set for Sunday at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.

In an email, Steynor told me that the Olympics were a good fit for his recital in part because the preparation for athletes is not dissimilar to that of musicians.

“The Games seemed like a good theme to go with for this summer’s concert because of the timing, and the fact that there are sports recognised as Olympic sports that are more artistic: specifically, prepared performances by an individual that don’t necessarily involve interplay with others in order to compete,” he wrote, such as gymnastics.

Matthew Steynor, director of music at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Miami.

Athletic display at the organ will therefore be integral to much of the music he’ll play: he’s chosen pieces that require fancy finger and footwork, works that sound good but also are interesting to watch. Some of the concert will be video-projected, he said.

“For a couple of the pieces I’m focusing on just the fingers and the workout they can endure when playing the organ,” he wrote. One of those pieces is a Scherzo by the French composer Albert Alain (1880-1971), “because it’s a delightful piece aurally and I think will also work very well visually.”

Other challenges will come in the form of “Variations on a Theme by Paganini,” written for the pedals alone by Sir George Thalben-Ball (1896-1987), a flamboyant Australian-born British organist, and the “Fantasy on Tokyo-Ondo,” from the Three Japanese Sketches of the contemporary Swiss composer Guy Bovet. Steynor also has programmed the Variations on a Noël by Marcel Dupre (1886-1971), one of the towering figures of French organ composition and performance in the 20th century.

“This program is packed with variations, providing a kaleidoscope of different sonic experiences, in the same way that the Olympics provides a myriad of different sports,” he wrote. “Some of the variations… can certainly be likened to 200-meter sprints, and last not much longer.”

The major work on the program will be one of the most well-known variation sets in English music, the “Enigma Variations” of Sir Edward Elgar, in a transcription for organ by Daniel Stipe of Trinity Episcopal Church in Princeton, N.J.; the celebrated “Nimrod” variation will be heard in an arrangement by William Harris.

“The title of the concert is ‘Organ-ic Games,’ which to some was a slight enigma in itself, and Elgar was certainly in a playful spirit of composition when he wrote the ‘Variations.’ And, of course, the secret of what the enigma is, was certainly a game that Elgar enjoyed playing, being the only person to know the solution,” Steynor wrote.

Steynor said he’ll watch the opening ceremonies Friday to see whether there’s anything else he wants to play that will tie in, but he’s going to open his recital with “Outer Hebrides,” a work by the contemporary Anglo-Canadian composer Paul Halley. The islands northwest of Scotland were among the most distant places in the U.K. on the Olympic torch route, Steynor wrote.

“The piece has a certain Chariots of Fire element about it,” he wrote.

Steynor said he was back home in England a few weeks ago between the festivities for the Queen’s Jubilee and the upcoming Olympics, but he’ll be watching the Games along with the rest of us rather than fighting the crowds in person.

“I’ll enjoy watching from the telly and some Pimms,” he wrote, referring to the popular British liqueur (here are some details and recipes, if you want to join in).

Steynor’s recital is set for 6 p.m. Sunday at the cathedral. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door. Call 305-789-0074 to buy tickets or visit this site.

Trinity Episcopal Cathedral: 464 NE 16th St., Miami; 305-374-3372;