Virtuoso organist to perform at academy


"I should place an organist who is master of his instrument at the very head of all virtuosi," said Ludwig van Beethoven.

Generations before, a 21-year-old German organist and composer named Johann Sebastian Bach had presaged Beethoven's sentiments by walking all the way from Arnstadt to Lubeck, some 150 miles, to experience the keyboard wizardry of Dietrich Buxtehude, the fellow reputed to be the greatest organist of his day.

These days, superior organ playing is still a grand attraction for music lovers who, thank heavens, no longer have to tramp across the countryside to hear a great virtuoso hold forth on "The King of Instruments."

Indeed, tomorrow evening, they need travel only as far as the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel to hear one of the world's greatest organists, John Weaver, who is chairman of the organ departments of the Juilliard School in New York and the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.

The concert of works by J.S. Bach, Johannes Brahms, Cesar Franck, Marcel Dupre, William Walond and Weaver himself begins at 8 p.m.

"A great organist must first be a great musician, sensitive not only to beautiful melodies but to musical color," said Monte Maxwell, the Academy Chapel's organist since 1997 and once a Weaver student at Curtis and Juilliard. "Then there is the matter of getting those colors out of the instrument."

Articulating phrases on the organ is a whole different matter from phrasing on the piano, Maxwell said, and, of course, with two or more manual consoles and a large array of foot pedals, an organist must have coordination skills, par excellence.

And no one in the world, said Maxwell, excels at all of these with greater authority than his former teacher.

"John is a superb musician in every sense of the word," Maxwell said. "He is extraordinary both as a solo performer and as a church organist whose job it is to get an entire congregation involved in what he's doing. He also performs entirely from memory, which is rare for an organist in this day and age."

Weaver's recital of masterpieces from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries will celebrate the completion of a major renovation of the academy chapel organ that has significantly expanded the tonal capabilities of the instrument. The organ contains more than 6,000 pipes.

The project was undertaken at a cost of $250,000, with funding entirely from private sources.

It is fitting that Weaver, a Baltimore native who has a long association with the Naval Academy, should be the distinguished visitor to put the renewed instrument through its paces.

Some six decades ago, Weaver's father, a Baltimore clergyman, brought his young son to Annapolis to play for academy organist Donald Gilley in an effort to determine whether the lad showed sufficient promise to pursue serious musical study.

The answer, needless to say, was in the affirmative.

In recent years, Weaver, as organist at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, has invited the Naval Academy Chapel Choir to perform at numerous services.

"This concert has all the makings of a special event," says Maxwell. "The new instrument sounds marvelous, our soloist has meaningful ties to the academy, and, as an organist, [Weaver is] the best there is."

General admission tickets to the recital are $10. They are available in advance at the music and theater ticket office in the academy's Bancroft Hall, or may be charged at 410-293-8497. Tickets also may be available at the door. Information: 410-293-2439.

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