Music review: Penhorwood Birthday Concert

Concert a wonderful 75th birthday tribute to organist Penhorwood

By Peter Jacobi


The person or persons that dreamed up Tuesday night’s birthday party in Auer Hall deserve praise. So do the musicians, faculty and students, who carried it off.

Those that performed “Organ Works of Edwin Penhorwood, in Celebration of His 75th Birthday” offered a wonderful tribute to that fine and gifted gentleman while providing the gathered audience a heartwarming musical event.

Edwin Penhorwood

Edwin Penhorwood

Penhorwood, while on the Indiana University Jacobs School faculty, gained fans when IU Opera Theater produced his uproarious opera, “Too Many Sopranos.” I also recall a rewarding recital of his lyrical songs. Tuesday’s fare was written for church services.

Five distinguished organists divided the critically important organ duties. Charles Webb, Janette Fishell, Marilyn Keiser and Colin Andrews each performed four of composer Penhorwood’s works for the church: toccatas, a fanfare, a prayer, transcriptions and adaptations of hymns, anthems and spirituals. Bruce Neswick lent his talent to the closing item on the program, a Fantasy on “Praise to the Lord” that involved just about the whole lineup of performers, including a chorus.

The organ music one heard, written between 1966 and 2014, was steeped in church traditions and yet often had harmonic updates, even dissonances, and touches of contemporary development that added surprise and interest to the listening. Familiar titles appeared in the printed program as sources for Penhorwood’s imagination and religious zeal, among them “In the Cross of Christ I Glory,” “Christ the Lord Is Risen today,” “All Glory Laud and Honor,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “There Is a Balm in Gilead” and “Crown Him with Many Crowns.”

One jubilant piece called for organ and vocal soloist. Charles Webb and soprano Riley Swatos rousingly presented a setting of Psalm 47 (“O clap your hands all ye people: Shout unto God with the voice of triumph”). Another celebratory hymn, “All Creatures of Our God and King,” required organ (Marilyn Keiser), soprano (Shannon Love), and trumpet (John Rommel), and they certainly stirred the air.

The concert-closing Fantasy on “Praise to the Lord” brought a student chorus of 23 to the Auer Hall balcony, Bruce Neswick to the organ, and to the stage a lengthy list of faculty friends: John Rommel and Joey Tartell, trumpet; Dale Clevenger and Jeff Nelsen, horn; Carl Lenthe, trombone; Daniel Perantoni, tuba; John Tafoya, timpani; and Dominick DiOrio to conduct. Mighty sounds they made in honor of a friend’s 75th birthday, one he’ll remember a long time, one that surely satisfied an audience of friends and other music devotees, including the writer of these words.


© Herald Times 2014


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