Archive for October 2011

Francophiles take note…   2 comments

November 16, 12:45 pm (just after the noon mass)

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown LA.

It’s exciting to be playing at OLA again! This time the program will be one large piece, César Franck’s Grande Pièce Symphonique.

Patterned after Beethoven’s beloved Ninth Symphony, it’s the first French romantic symphony for the organ. After it appeared in 1863, it became the prototype for the later organ symphonies of Louis Vierne, Charles-Marie Widor, and others (the famous Toccata by Widor is the last movement of his Fifth Symphony).

One of my organ teachers said it is “the first – and the best” organ symphony. When I mentioned to a colleague I was playing it, he said “Really? I don’t think I’ve heard that piece for 50 years!”

I also have a deep personal and emotional interest in this piece, as it was on one of the first organ recordings I heard (bought for me when I was 10 or 11), and was probably one of the factors that caused me to fall in love with the organ.

So this piece is dear to my heart!

And I’ll be playing it on one of the best organs in the world, in exactly the resonant acoustic Franck had in mind.

I’ll make sure it’s a splendid experience! Do come!

You can read more about the Cathedral (including directions and parking) and its organ at

Posted October 26, 2011 by Ray Urwin in Uncategorized

Eyes or Ears? The Ears have it…   1 comment

Musicians spend a good chunk of their student years just learning to listen – and listen pretty carefully. I’d say we all think we are pretty exact and can differentiate things ordinary mortals can’t…so this article surprised me! . Be sure to have your sound on when you watch.

Also worth browsing through Robert Krulwich’s writings at – and not just because he’s an Oberlin grad like me.

Posted October 24, 2011 by Ray Urwin in Uncategorized

Some more Jewish composers   1 comment

Here’s another installment in my series on the Jewish composers from my OLA recital this past September.

Isadore Freed
The first piece I played was a setting of the Yigdal tune by Isadore Freed (1900-1960). He was born in Russia, and lived in Philadelphia. For a few years he lived in Paris and studied with Ernest Bloch, Vincent D’Indy and the renowned Paris teacher Nadia Boulanger.

Freed taught at the newly established Hebrew Union School of Sacred Music, in addition to his teaching posts at Temple University in Philadelphia, and as chair of the Composition department at the Julius Hart Musical Foundation in Hartford, Conn. At Hebrew Union, he expanded his course offerings to include a class devoted to Jewish modes. In 1958, he published his book Harmonizing the Jewish Modes, still used today.

Frederick Jacobi

The biggest “character” of all of these composers was probably Frederick Jacobi (1891-1952). Born in San Francisco and the son of a San Francisco wholesale wine merchant, he was independently wealthy and so could devote his entire livelihood to music. In his twenties he studied with such masters as Isidore Phillippe, Ernest Bloch, and Rubin Goldmark (teacher of Aaron Copland and George Gershwin).

Here’s the Alcatraz connection I spoke about at the concert:
During World War I, Jacobi served as a saxophone player in the Alcatraz Army Band; the Wikipedia article has a picture of him, looking very jaunty with his sax, at Alcatraz, at He later moved to New York, where he was a vocal coach and assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera, and taught at Juilliard.

Quotes from Jacobi

“I am a great believer in melody; a believer, too, that music should give pleasure and not try to solve philosophical problems.”

“The surest way to kill whatever originality one possesses within himself is to try to be original!”


Jacobi’s wife Irene was in a box near the Metropolitan Opera stage one evening when Jacobi was the prompter [a person in the front of a stage giving cues to the performers, not meant to be heard by the audience]. After the performance she said, “Darling, you were wonderful. I heard every word you said!”

Posted October 22, 2011 by Ray Urwin in Uncategorized

Les Cloches de Notre Dame   1 comment

The current bells of Notre Dame in Paris have rung since 1856. Now, there’s a big controversy about replacing them…. My hope: that the current bells at least find a place where their history can be enjoyed by all (a church or museum?).

Posted October 21, 2011 by Ray Urwin in Uncategorized

And now for something completely different…   Leave a comment

We interrupt our series on the Jewish composers I showcased playing at LA’s Roman Catholic cathedral last month to thank Karla Devine, Jim Eninger, and everyone at Trinity Lutheran Church in Manhattan Beach for inviting me to play on the Bach’s Lunch Recital last Friday. There was a huge and appreciative crowd, a yummy tracker organ, lots of great publicity, and a very nice lunch afterward. I highly recommend this series for those of you who can take lunchtime in Manhattan Beach! They have several concert series besides the Bach’s Lunch programs; here’s a link to find out more!

Posted October 11, 2011 by Ray Urwin in Uncategorized

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