Young Organist Chelsea Chen to Perform Free Recital in Des Plaines
Award-winning young international concert organist and composer Chelsea Chen will perform a diverse, centuries-spanning program that includes her signature composition, "Taiwanese Suite," and the Chicago debut of her "Chorale-Prelude on 'Bethold'" at a free concert presented by the Chicago chapter of the American Guild of Organists at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, February 10, at Trinity Lutheran Church, 675 East Algonquin Road, Des Plaines, Ill.
The event is open to the public, and reservations are not required. More information at www.chicagoago.com, (773) 865-5470.
"Chelsea Chen is one of the most exciting young artists among the new generation of organists," says Richard Hoskins of the Chicago A.G.O. "She's studied with some of the finest teachers, she's doing great things to introduce new repertoire, and she is undeniably glamorous."
In addition to her own two compositions, Chen will play contemporary Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo's Sinfonietta; Edvard Grieg's popular "Peer Gynt Suite" No. 1, Op. 46, arranged for organ by Harvey Gaul; J. S. Bach's chorale prelude "An Wasserflüssen Babylon" (By the waters of Babylon), BWV 653, and his Prelude and Fugue in D Major, BWV 532; and the finale from Camille Saint-Saëns's Symphony No. 3 ("Organ"), transcribed for solo organ by David Briggs.
"I like to play organ concerts that are eclectic" Chen said in a phone interview in advance of her February 10 concert. "I like pieces that are colorful and make use of all the sounds of the organ."
Chen, 33, a native of San Diego, Calif., dedicated her three-movement "Taiwanese Suite" (2003) to her father, who is of Taiwanese descent. It was directly inspired by a recording of Chinese folk music she heard while a student at The Juilliard School in New York, where she earned bachelor's and master's degrees in music. Another influence, she said, was her paternal grandmother, with whom she spoke Mandarin Chinese and sang traditional Chinese songs.
Chen said she includes "Taiwanese Suite" in "all my major concerts." It's a multilayered piece that incorporates sounds imitative of clarinets and oboes. One of her goals, she said, is to combat the stereotype of the organ as the "scary-sounding" instrument heard in horror movies. "It can evoke all kinds of emotions and images."
Her short "Chorale-Prelude on 'Bethold,'" written in 2016, is based on a Lutheran chorale. "I liked the melody of that chorale," she said. "It uses some five-note, pentatonic scales that lend it a bit of an Asian sound." She gave its world-premiere performance in Houston for the American Guild of Organists, which commissioned it.
Chen gave the U.S premiere of Gjeilo's Sinfonietta, which she describes as "a beautiful piece that's like a mini-symphony. It's short, but shows off all the wonderful things an organ can do."
The melodies from Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, Op. 46 are among the most familiar in classical music. Its "Morning" movement is heard on film soundtracks during sunrise scenes and immediately recalls its namesake time of day.
Bach was a superstar organist of the German Baroque era. He wrote the Prelude and Fugue in D Major around 1710 and "An Wasserflussen Babylon" around 1723.
One of the pleasures of performing the transcription of the Finale from Saint-Saëns's "Organ" Symphony, Chen says, it that she gets to play "the fun parts" originally written for the orchestra, in addition to the solo organ part. "It's a very exciting piece. It's fantastic."
Chen will perform on Trinity Church's Schantz pipe organ. Installed in 1976, it consists of three manuals (keyboards) and 47 ranks (sets of pipes). The instrument's horizontal "trumpet" pipes, called the Trompette en Chamade, project from the rear wall of the sanctuary, providing a surround-sound experience. "Our pipe organ is at home in concert repertoire and is particularly well-suited to works from the German School," says Brad Whaley, Chicago A.G.O. member and Trinity Church's organist and choir director. "The music of J.S. Bach is especially at home here."
Chen (b. 1983) is recognized for her concerts of "rare musicality" and "lovely grandeur," and a compositional style that is "charming" and "irresistible" (Los Angeles Times). She is the recipient of the 2009 Lili Boulanger Memorial Award and winner of the 2005 Augustana/Reuter National Organ Competition. In addition to her Juilliard degrees, she earned an Artist Diploma from Yale University. She has performed throughout the United States, Europe, Australia and Asia. Her website is www.chelseachen.com.
The membership of the Chicago Chapter of the American Guild of Organists comprises organists, singers, conductors, and enthusiasts of the organ, including professional and part-time musicians and "simply friends of the King of Instruments." Visit www.chicagoago.com for more.