Life can get in the way, sometimes. Which is the only explanation I can offer for why I am only learning now of the passing of the extraordinary organist, composer and conductor John Scott, who died suddenly this past August of cardiac arrest. He was 59. I am shocked, saddened, almost in a state of disbelief.
I had never paid much attention to the organ before John arrived at St. Thomas Church in 2004, after serving for 26 years at St. Paul's Cathedral in London as Organist and Director of Music. But, John almost singlehandedly opened my eyes the possibilities of this wondrous instrument with his complete cycles of the music of Buxtehude, Messiaen and Ligeti. Not to mention all of the music he would play as part of his weekly liturgical responsibilities.
For his first Christmas in New York, John put together an extraordinary free concert, which he would go on to repeat each December for the next decade. First, he led the Boys Choir in Britten's A Ceremony of Carols. (In later years, John added John Rutter's Dancing Day to the program.) Then, John would move quietly to the organ console, where for the next hour he would play Messiaen's epic La Nativité du Seigneur. As I wrote at the time:
"The music, which built steadily in complexity and volume until the walls began to shake, was horrible, beautiful, terrifying and ecstatic...After the final E-major unison, Scott came out and took two polite curtain calls. He is a meek-looking man of 52 in a plain blue suit, hardly resembling the madman we'd all just listened to for 70 minutes."
Happily, the St. Thomas Boys Choir will continue their annual performance of A Ceremony of Carols and Dancing Day next Thursday at 5:30 p.m, led by St. Thomas' interim director Stephen Buzard. But, without the bespectacled Scott leading them in his even, yet impassioned way, it just won't be the same. An incalculable loss.