Join us for the Astoria Music Festival Portland Preview on Thursday, June 13 at 7:30pm and find out. The Historic Old Church is proud to host the Festival’s only Portland performance.
In 1878, Antonín Dvořák, popular Czech and New World Symphony composer, was playing lots of chamber music with his close friend, Josef Srb-Debrnov, who also happened to own a harmonium. As a result, he composed Bagatelles, Op.47 for two violins, cello and the harmonium. It is suspected that he substituted the harmonium for his own instrument, the viola, because of its distinctive sound. Bagatelles are short pieces, usually heard in sets; Dvořák wrote his as a group of five.
Harmonium in the Lannie Hurst Parlour. Built in 1884 by the Wilcox & White Company in Meridian, Connecticut.
In case you are not an aficionado of Victorian musical instruments, a harmonium — more commonly known as a pump organ — is a reed instrument that is powered by foot-pumped bellows. Since they were smaller, cheaper, and more portable than pipe organs, they were a smart choice for frontier churches and private homes in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Because of their limited volume and tonal range, they fell out of fashion and now are more likely to be used as a beautiful piece of furniture rather than a concert instrument. Fortunately for us, Dvořák had a different view.
Dr. Cary Lewis
According to Cary Lewis, Chamber Music Director of the Astoria Music Festival who will be playing the harmonium at the concert, “The Dvořák is a set of five pieces that are absolutely delightful, and really need the sound of the reed organ to sound authentic. There is a real folk music quality that a church organ would have trouble imitating, unless it has a ‘reed’ stop.” He went on to say, “When I was growing up, my father was a Southern Baptist preacher, and we had a portable pump organ that was useful for taking out to tent revivals and vacation bible schools. It could fold up into itself and be carried around like a trunk.” Mr. Lewis describes how the sound is made by, “…wind going through reeds like a clarinet, oboe or bassoon, rather than through pipes like flutes or brass instruments — hence there is a certain nasal quality.”
When he performed the Bagatelles in Atlanta on a harmonium, and another time on an electronic keyboard with a reed organ stop, he observed that, “The real thing is so, so much better. Many composers wrote (serious) music for this instrument. I’m glad we will be able to use the one in The Old Church. I’ve been thinking about this ever since the first time I played there about 10 years ago!”
Harriet Emily “Hattie” Henderson Curtis (1869-1956)
The harmonium mentioned above is on permanent loan to The Historic Old Church from the estate of Ray and Harriet Curtis and now resides in the Lannie Hurst Parlour. Built in 1884 by the Wilcox & White Company in Meridian, Connecticut, it came west with Ray and Hattie when then settled in Portland in 1906. Mrs. Curtis had purchased this instrument for Christmas in 1889 with money she had earned from teaching school in Cordova, Minnesota. It was proudly displayed in their home and used to present concerts for friends and family. Their homestead, located in Southeast Portland, was called Curtis Berry Farms.
Joining Mr. Lewis for the June 13 concert is Martin Chalifour, concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Sergey Antonov, cello gold medal winner of the Tchaikowsky Competition, and Sarah Kwak, concertmaster of the Oregon Symphony Orchestra. They will also be playing music by Mendelssohn, Gliere, and more.
Doors open at 6:30pm. Wine & Beer available for 21+. Advance tickets are $12, or available at the door for $15, $10 seniors & students. To purchase tickets: BrownPaperTickets.com or in The Historic Old Church office at 503-222-2031. For more information about the concert, click here.