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Detroit Symphony Orchestra to honor Frieze Memorial Organ

By Paige Pfleger, Daily Arts Writer
Published January 11, 2013

A series of concerts is set to come to Ann Arbor for the 100th anniversary celebration of Hill Auditorium. The first show presented by the University Musical Society will feature the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The concert will take place in Hill on Sunday Jan. 13 at 4 p.m. and will highlight the Frieze Memorial Organ, which is housed in Hill.

The concert will also feature the UMS Choral Union, who will perform along with DSO brass and percussion and Organ Professor James Kibbie in the opening piece, “Tu es Petrus” by James MacMillan. The Choral Union is a choir consisting of a wide variety of singers: some faculty, some students, some young and some old, led by Director of Choirs Jerry Blackstone. The group has been featured in concerts with the DSO as well as the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra.

“The pieces in this particular concert were chosen to be a kickoff celebration for Hill’s birthday,” Blackstone said, “And for this first concert, we wanted to celebrate the organ.”

The centerpiece of the concert, the Frieze Memorial Organ, is older than Hill Auditorium itself. The organ was built in Detroit and featured at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The following year, it was shipped to Ann Arbor and named after Henry Simmons Frieze, a Latin professor and interim University President. Frieze was a principal founder of UMS, and the organ was named in his honor after his death in 1889.

“This event is a very big deal for organists,” Kibbie said.

It is rare that an organ should be featured in a concert accompanied by a symphony orchestra, and this will be Kibbie’s first time playing with the DSO.

“A group of organists have actually purchased a large block of seats up in the mezzanine, and they’re all going to sit up there together as a cheering section,” Kibbie added.

The Frieze Memorial organ isn’t the only organ on campus. Organs reside in Moore Hall, Burton Tower, various practice rooms and even the School of Public Health, the location of Brown Bag recitals on every other Wednesday at 12:15 PM.

“The University of Michigan is actually one of the big centers of organ studies and organ programs in the United States,” Kibbie said.

Kibbie shares the honor of being a featured player with two other renowned organists, David Higgs and Peter Richard Conte in the upcoming concert. “Toccata Festiva for Organ and Orchestra, Op. 36” by Samuel Barber features Higgs, a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music and the current head of the organ department at the Eastman School of Music.

The closing number, “Symphony No. 3 in C Major” by Aram Khachaturian, features Conte, the Grand Court Organist of the Wanamaker Organ in Macy’s, Center City, Philadelphia and an assistant professor of Improvisation at Rider University in New Jersey.

“The repertoire we’re going to hear is varied,” Kibbie said, “which is something special about the organ, it’s capable of playing many types and styles of music. I think the program chosen will feature the organ very well.”

Blackstone hopes that the audience will enjoy the celebration of Hill and the Frieze Memorial Organ, as well as the prestigious Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

“Expect beauty and brilliance,” he said, “and exciting music with a wide variety of dynamics and colors. It will be a very exciting program.”