To put it bluntly, the organ isn’t a cool instrument. Or at least that’s what most people would say. But professional organist Nathan Laube is trying to change that.
“We often times aren’t interested in things we don’t know anything about,” Laube said. “It just takes one experience, one real-life experience hearing a good organ and a good acoustic to be hooked. So often the exposure to the organ is the following recipe for disaster: a bad organ in a little church played by a bad organist.”
Laube, assistant professor of organ on the faculty of the Eastman School of Music and international consultant in organ studies at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, is coming to Cheyenne on Oct. 13 to perform in Cathedral of St. Mary’s 27th Organ Concert Series.
It’s safe to say that Laube, who’s played major venues on four continents and has two CD recordings – one of which received a Grammy Award for Best Classical Compendium – is well-known within the organ community, and Cathedral of St. Mary Director of Music Ministry Patrick Stolz has wanted to bring him to Cheyenne for a long time.
“He’s only 28 years old and has accomplished so much,” Stolz said. “One person on the committee heard him at a concert in Fort Collins and said ‘you’ve got to get him.’”
The cathedral had a connection with Laube’s agent, making it easier to book him for the church’s 2019 organ concert. The performance will be Laube’s first in Wyoming, and Stolz said he’s looking forward to hearing such a respected professional fill the cathedral with music via an instrument – a Visser-Rowland tracker pipe organ, to be specific – that was custom built for the space and dedicated in 1992.
“I’m excited we’re able to utilize our organ to its capacity and be a cultural center for our community,” Stolz added. “In the region, it’s probably one of the finest organs, and with our acoustical space with the baroque architecture of the cathedral it really works well for this type of organ.”
Laube also noted the beauty of the space he’ll be performing in during his time in Cheyenne, and he then used the architecture of a Gothic cathedral as a metaphor to explain the elements that make an excellent musical composition.
“Music and architecture are so intertwined in every way,” Laube said. “The way I understand it is that a great piece of music is like a great cathedral – it must be sturdy, solid, have great proportions, a peak and a foundation.”
The program for his concert will feature works by Bach and several of his “disciples,” aka people who were greatly influenced by the iconic composer. Laube said he hand-picked pieces that he believes will draw out the finest qualities of this special organ – one that he called the most famous in Wyoming.
“The qualities of the organ which really set it apart are its clarity and focus of ensemble, so therefore I’m playing a lot of music with clarity and distilled colors – mostly music of Bach,” he said. “It’s a lot of music from his most important organ work, which he actually published in his lifetime.”
That piece is the third work of Bach’s keyboard practice published in 1739, right at the end of his life, and Laube called it – “Dritter Teil der Klavierübung” – Bach’s testament to the art of the organ.
“It’s at once extremely poetic and fresh and inventive and at the other hand cerebral and dense, thorny,” he added. “It’s music that was very much at the center of a debate in the 18th century … there were a lot of people criticizing him, very openly saying he was using all these archaic compositional devices.”
Those on the other end of the argument believed Bach was using these old devices and compositional models while making them new and meaningful, Laube said, adding that it’s interesting because nowadays history puts Bach on a pedestal, but he wasn’t always up there.
Laube will play about half of the book in Cheyenne, but he recently played the entire book at Royal Festival Hall in London. He said it’s one of his favorite pieces to play, but it’s also one of the most intellectually tasking pieces an organist can play.
“I think the thing about really great music is that it’s challenging and edifying and moving,” Laube said. “We tend to put emotion and complexity in two mutually exclusive places, but as we know by looking at great literature or painting or architecture, these are two great things that are not mutually exclusive.”
He said he loves the piece because of how unbelievably poetic and complex it is, while appearing completely effortless – the complexity is essentially guised in the simplicity of the piece.
Laube also said he hopes listening to pieces like this and the Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and Maurice Duruflé works in the second half of the program will help audience members gain a greater appreciation for an instrument they don’t hear often.
“It has a grandeur – there’s a mystery in the sound,” he said of the organ. “It’s not all bombast. It’s the stereotype that it’s ‘Phantom of the Opera,’ and that’s such a limited perspective on what this instrument does. It has all the subtlety of any other ensemble instrument.”