There are more churches with major pipe organs in New York City than anywhere else in the country, some of which rank among the finest such instruments in the world. Unfortunately, most of them only get played during Sunday services - and then only to pluck out hymns to accompany choirs and half-full congregations.
Fortunately, that leaves them open to Gail Archer, an organ professor at both the Manhattan School of Music and Barnard College, who's been playing a series of Olivier Messiaen organ recitals all around New York this year, in honor of the centennial of the composer's birth. This afternoon, she made he way to the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer on the Upper East Side to perform on their magnificent Schantz organ, installed in 2002.
Archer played Messiaen's Mediatations on the Mystery of the Holy Trinity, a 90-minute cycle in nine parts which Messiaen wrote and first performed in 1972 at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. As with all of Messiaen's large cycles, the music vacillates between quiet and voluminous, between unbearable cacophony and tonal ecstasy. Archer, who played from a console in the center of the sanctuary, seemed completely taken over by it, though she refrained from showy gesticulations. With the organ blasting and the afternoon light streaming in through the startling blue stained glass windows, it was almost more than I could take. Certainly more powerful than anything happening at Yankee Stadium that same hour.
The final recital in Archer's series will be held at St. Patrick's Cathedral on May 29, where she will be playing Messiaen's late masterpiece Livre du Saint Sacrement (1985). (Un)fortunately, I'll be in Paris then, hearing that very same work performed at La Trinite, on the organ which Messiaen himself once played. (More pics after the jump.)