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Eastman organists bring life to the pipes

blog by UB Spectrum  • 

The murmurs emitting from the rows of ruby-red seats subside as the lights in the enormous column-lined concert hall fade to a faint glimmer. The stage is empty.

Only two 20-foot stands point microphones upwards, gripping at heavy silence as a suited young man with glasses and a white bow tie appears on the overhanging balcony. Surrounded by metallic pipes, some reaching almost 30 feet in height, Benton Blasingame meets the applause with a smile as he brushes the tail of his coat so that it dangles over the bench like a veil.

There is a deep reedy boom a few moments after as the floor of Lippes Concert Hall begins to quiver. Benton’s fingers glide along three rows of keys while his feet descend upon the pedal board simultaneously.

Benton was one of four performers who showcased the Eastman Organists’ Day recital on Friday night. Eastman School of Music organists Isaac Lee, Chelsea Barton, and John Allegar accompanied him in a performance that encompassed a wide array of classical and baroque-inspired pieces.

Allegar, who closed the recital, is pursuing a Doctorate of Musical Arts at Eastman, working in the studio with David Higgs – a well-acclaimed organist and music director. His set consisted of some more experimental works by modern composers Gaston Litaize, Lionel Rogg, and Olivier Messiaen.

Allegar started playing piano at age 8 before moving on to organ at 14. The Kansas City native’s relationship with the organ wasn’t love at first sight, however. He began to appreciate the instrument for its versatility after delving into the study and attending concerts.

“Just the whole technique of playing the organ is completely different,” Allegar said. “You have so many color possibilities that you might not have on the piano.”

Since every organ is different, Allegar enjoys traveling to get a feel for different models. “It’s like getting to know a new friend, but you have to get to know them very quickly,” said Allegar.

Attended primarily by an older crowd, this concert was an event that appealed to the finely tuned taste of classical music enthusiasts in Buffalo.  Yet in the thicket of grey hair, glasses, and penguin suits were a small group of UB students.

One of which being Daniel Rider, a senior electrical engineering and math major, and self-proclaimed organ fan, who spoke through a thick beard about his frequent attendance at on-campus recitals.

Rider claims to have been the youngest member of the audience for several shows at the Lippes Concert Hall, but has seen a marked rise in student attendance. While an outward fan of J.S. Bach, Daniel says that his second genre of choice is rock music.

Pointing out the parallels, Daniel adds, “If you listen, you can pick up a pattern that you might hear in a rock song.”

While the actual cost of the organ these performers brought to life on Friday isn’t known, this musical beast, built in 1990, was estimated to cost upwards of $750,000.

“Now it’s worth a lot more than that,” says Philip Rehard, the Concert Manager at Slee Hall.

Those who were caught in the halting wind of this giant piece of wood and steel would tell you, it was worth every penny.

Besides hosting Eastman organists, the Lippes Concert Hall in Slee Hall provides entertainment by presenting over 150 concerts annually, including UB student and faculty recitals, Beethoven string quartets, and featured visiting artists.

Concert-goers should be on the lookout for Slee’s largest upcoming acts like violinist Kim Kashkashian, composer Robert Levin, pianist Richard Goode, and Eastman’s Ying Quartet coming this spring.

By ADRIEN D’ANGELO, staff writer
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TAGGED: concerts, music, slee hall, ub spectrum, university at buffalo

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