Curiosities, transcriptions abound in week’s organ concerts

This week’s organ concerts will feature pieces that audiences may never expect to hear — and that’s exactly what Institution organist Jared Jacobsen is hoping for.

The Tallman Tracker Organ concert, titled “Gems from the Back of The Drawer,” will begin at 12:15 p.m. today in the Hall of Christ. Jacobsen will continue his season-long “Virtuoso Organist” theme with a Massey Memorial Organ Mini-Concert titled “The Virtuoso Organist: Russia” at 12:15 p.m. Wednesday in the Amphitheater.

The Tallman Tracker Organ concert comprises pieces the audience has likely never heard before, but they resonate well with the instrument, the audience and Chautauqua itself, Jacobsen said.

“These are pieces that I keep running into, and I put them in a separate stack and I think, ‘Oh, someday it would be fun to do these,’ ” he said.

The inspiration for the concert program came from two collections of early music, “Graveyard Gems” and “Resurrected Relics,” that organist Ernest White compiled.

Included in these collections is a piece called “The New Sa-Hoo” by Giles Farnaby, which was meant to accompany a medieval English dance.

“They’re not hard pieces, but they’re curiosities,” Jacobsen said. “They didn’t sound like music people were playing at the time either in the pop world of the organ, which was cinema music, or the big, heavy-duty classics. These were just odd little things that were windows into a much earlier era.”

Though these collections are not well known, Jacobsen said they were an important contribution to the organist’s repertoire because they sparked an interest in early music and pushed the boundaries of musical knowledge.

“[White] did a great service in finding ways to keep people interested in playing the organ, and not just the pieces that were floating around at the time,” Jacobsen said. “That’s all very important to the growth of music study and the enlarging of people’s consciousness as they’re studying. I think — for me, at least — the most successful teachers are the ones who kind of blow your mind wide open. That was Ernest White.”

Seventy years later, White still inspires this sort of thinking for Jacobsen.

The Massey Memorial Organ Mini-Concert will challenge expectations in a different way. Because music in the Orthodox tradition is not accompanied, organ music did not develop in Russia to the extent that it did in the rest of Europe. However, many transcriptions of famous orchestral pieces for organ do exist.

Wednesday’s concert will include several of these transcriptions, including a re-working of movements from Stravinsky’s The Firebird.

“As Stravinsky goes, it’s quite accessible, and it tells a wonderful story,” Jacobsen said. “It’s [the finale] one of the great orchestral crescendos of all time, and it works beautifully on the organ.”

Jacobsen will also perform two Rachmaninoff transcriptions.

“The Rachmaninoff Prelude for the Piano in C-sharp minor works amazingly well for the organ, because it’s big block chords and big sounds and silences,” Jacobsen said. “And with the Massey Organ, you can play the room as well as the instrument and really get those sounds and silences going.”

The program will be rounded out by a French-style “Toccata” by Georgi Mushel, one of the few Russian pieces originally composed for the pipe organ.

“This one sounds like you’re a Russian horseman, and you’re sort of galloping across the central steppes of Russia,” Jacobsen said. “It just has this infectious energy. Once you start, you just hang on for dear life. You can just see the mane flying and the tail flying.”

Though Russian music is usually not tailored for the organ, Jacobsen said that he could not resist exploring the virtuosity of Russian composers.

“There’s a reason these are timeless pieces,” he said. “They reach out and they grab you in so many ways. It’s heart-on-your-sleeve music, it’s heart-on-your-sleeve playing, and it’s heart-on-your-sleeve listening. You just sit back, and you revel in these wonderful sounds.”