Last evening after the NYCO's Carmen, I tried to join my friend, clarinetist Michael Norsworthy for the Met Orchestra chamber concert of Babbitt, Carter, Harbison, and Stravinsky. Nothing better to get the Bizet matinée out of my ears. Alas, it was sold out. While Michael and everyone else in Weill Hall enjoyed their new music, I walked around trying to bide my time until the concert was over so we could have dinner together. I headed over to Fifth Avenue and walked into St. Thomas Church for an organ recital. It turned out to be a great stroke of luck.
Ansgar Wallenhorst performed Liszt's Fantasy and Fugue on the Chorale “Ad nos, ad salutarem undam” followed by an extensive improvisation. It may have been 20 minutes or more, I quite lost track of time, the music was so brilliant. He brought forth colors from the instrument that were strangely delicious, seductive, and mysterious. His use of harmony and tonality were at once communicative and challenging. Soft dynamics were especially affecting with sounds shaded timbrally by nearly silent notes moving in and around others. Lowest possible notes were more felt than even heard. High twitters and sound specks seemed to come from unseen birds visiting the upper sanctuary. Through quiet accretion, he created new aural landscapes. As the improvisation moved to its conclusion, Wallenhorst layered repetitive galloping figures to build excitement. Responding fanfares resounded between the front and back of the church and in a dramatic rush of notes the work came to an end. If he had played more, I would have stayed all night.
Throughout the performance I thought of the singularity of this experience. This music, never heard before or since was being lavished on us. Like a life, it was the expression of one distinct personality, and because it is of no value or use alone, it became our shared delight.