On Sunday afternoon, the resounding music of the pipe organ filled Rieth Recital Hall. The musician behind the instrument was international concert organist Gail Archer. Her performance was the latest installment in the Rieth Chamber Series.
Archer currently serves as a college organist at Vassar College. She is also a faculty member at Harriman Institute of Columbia University and director of the music program at Barnard College, Columbia University. At Barnard, she conducts the Barnard-Columbia Chorus and Chamber singers.
Archer’s annual recital series, which has included selections by Max Reger, The Muse’s Voice, An American Idyll, Laszt, Bach, Mendelssohn and Messiaen, is known for recognizing composer anniversaries or musical themes.
On the centennial of the birth of composer Olivier Messiaen in 2008, she became the first American woman to play his complete works. For her Messiaen cycle, Time Out New York awarded her with “Best of 2008” in classical music and opera.
Being passionate about supporting female musicians, she founded Musforum, an online network for female organists to connect with each other and share their work.
For her performance in Reith, she played pieces by composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Robert Schumann and Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel. One of the pieces that she performed was a composition that she commissioned the composer, Judith Shatin, to write for her: “Dust and Shadow.”
Another piece that she performed was “Night on Bald Mountain,” composed by Modest Mussorgsky. On the subject of her ability in playing this piece, the World Music Report has said, “Inexorable momentum here is born of fervent authority, a virtuosity of combined effects without gratuitous excess.”
In 2018, she performed in Germany, Italy, France, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and the Slovak Republic. She performed in venues which including the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Italy, the Cathedral of Saint Bernard de Comminges in France, the St. Arnal Church in Germany, the St. Casimir Church in Lithuania, the Philharmonic Hall of Lviv, Ukraine, and the Great Lutheran Church of Bratislava, Slovak Republic.
In Rieth Recital Hall, she played the Opus 41 Pipe Organ, an organ that was hand-crafted for Goshen College. Its design is based off of 16th-century Dutch and German organs. It is crafted from quarter-sawn white oak, as per the traditions of Northern European organ building, and intentionally left unfinished.
The principles, the front pipes of the organ, are what give it its sound. The case and carvings of the Opus 41 organ is designed to draw attention to the principles. The lower level pipes are played from the bottom keyboard which is called the great, and the top pipes are played from the oberwerk, which is the front keyboard.
In total, the Opus 41 has 1604 pipes in all pitches and timbres.
While the main sound of the pipe organ is that of a chorus, there are also flutes, reeds and strings.
The Opus 41 is the first organ since the 18th century to use Johann Sebastian Bach’s tuning method, which he recorded in the title page of the writing “Well-Tempered Clavier” in 1722. It was rediscovered in 2004 by Goshen College alumnus Bradley Lehman.
Archer released a CD in 2017 called “A Russian Journey.” Other recordings include “The Muse’s Voice, Franz Liszt: A Hungarian Rhapsody,” “Bach: The Transcendent Genius, An American Idyll, A Mystic in the Making,” produced through Meyer Media and “The Orpheus of Amsterdam: Sweelinck and his Pupils,” produced by CALA Records.
The next concert in the Rieth Chamber Series features the Norwegian bass-baritone vocalist Njål Sparbo and pianist Einar Røttingen on April 3 at 7:30 p.m.