The standing ovation said it all. Richard Elliott, Principal Organist at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, was in Houston June 21, 2016 at the request of the American Guild of Organists (AGO) to perform one of several concerts during their biannual national convention. Elliott was chosen to premiere the newly commissioned piece Rhapsody for Brass Quintet and Organ by renowned composer Eric Ewazen. Elliott was joined by members of the Brass Quintet from the Houston Symphony.
“It was a thrill hearing Richard play my music,” said Ewazen. “I had listened to recordings of his playing, so I had a good sense of how musical he was. And hearing his performance live is a spectacular experience and an honor for me that a musician as great as that should be playing my music,” he added. Elliott and Ewazen both received degrees from the highly esteemed Eastman School of Music.
First-time conventioneer Stephanie Barth, Director of Music at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Enid, Oklahoma was exuberant about the performance. “It was excellent. I think that the Rhapsody that was commissioned for the concert tonight was just lovely. It is one of the loveliest pieces we have heard so far at the convention. He inspires all of us to continue performing and playing at our best,” she said.
Becky Ward, organist for First Presbyterian Church in Waco had heard or Dr. Elliott, but had never heard him play. “I loved it. He was great. He did all the ranges from very quiet to loud and boisterous and it was all wonderful. Actually I loved the very, very quiet string sound that he got, a very worshipful, ethereal sound,” she explained.
Dr. Elliott continued the concert with 4 organ solos rounding out a program highlighting the life of Christ. “I wanted to paint a musical portrait of his life starting with prophesy, birth, atonement and crucifixion and finally the resurrection,” Elliott said.
“The AGO is the premier organization for organists for training, for professional certification. AGO has membership of over 20,000, so this is a great honor to do this,” Elliott explained. ‘I’m representing many different entities, and representing great music and the composer that wrote it hoping to bring beauty into this world. I’m connecting between people of different faiths, of different national backgrounds. Music breaks down all kinds of barriers that need to be broken down,” he said.
“If I’m feeling tired or weighed down, I sit down and start playing the organ and within seconds I’m feeling good about things. That’s the great thing about music. It really can energize not only the listener but also the performer. I really believe it is a divine gift Heavenly Father has given us so that we can communicate with each other and also have a pipeline to Him and sense the divine in our daily lives,” he said.
This is Dr. Elliott’s third time to perform in Houston. “Every time I have performed here the people have been wonderful to me,” Elliott said.
“Houston is a great organ city. So many churches here with wonderful pipe organs. What is special about this venue for me is that this organ was built by the same company that built the Tabernacle organ back in 1948, built by a company in Boston called the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company. The same crew came directly from Salt Lake City here to Houston to build this organ at First Presbyterian, so it is a sister instrument. The crew that rebuilt the Tabernacle organ in 1988 did the renovation on this organ too. It is a treat for me. I feel right at home. It has a lot of the same DNA as the Tabernacle organ,” Elliott said.
Organists preset the stops, chambers of air forced through pipes, on the instrument to give a wide variety of sounds, much like picking spices from the pantry and blending them together in the perfect recipe. Since no two instruments are the same, this can be a blessing and a challenge, Elliott noted. “I got here so I would have three full days of preparation time before the day of the concert.”