Victor Cheng’s “cameo” at the Organ this Friday!

Here’s another update just before the concert on Friday that will get you amped up for SPO co-founder Victor Cheng’s debut on the organ!

Most talk surrounding Victor’s organ playing is hush-hush in order to make the greatest impact on the audience at the concert, so I had to tread carefully in writing this. What I can tell you is that SPO will be playing Stokowski’s arrangement of Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue. I can also tell you that this is not an easy task. If you’re a lay person to music like me, you’ll be awed at the complexity of this stereotypically gothic instrument and the crazy concentration required to play it well.

A fact I didn’t know until this interview: The organ can simulate a variety of different individual instruments. This means that if you want to, say, create a flute sound, you simply “pull” on the bourdon (flute) “stop” on the organ–or in lay-man’s terms, you flick the appropriate switch. Want to play a flute, trumpet, and violin sound together? Again, you pull on the appropriate stops. That full, rich sound we associate with the organ is actually a combination of instruments played together. Along with pulling stops Victor must also play on multiple “manuals” (keyboards—the one Victor will be playing has 4 keyboards for the hands, and a pedal-board for the feet!), and gauging volume with foot pedals directly above the pedal-board. All this requires an extraordinary presence of mind and physical coordination.

Which is why when I asked Victor if he’s likely to “get lost” in the music, turning his mind off and playing with abandon, he answered with a laugh, “no… In fact, it’s difficult to be expressive on the organ. As much as it resembles a piano, you cannot control the touch, tone or volume of a note just with your fingers!” Instead, when playing, Victor has to remain focused on the technicalities: things like making sure sound clears before he plays another passage–he doesn’t want it to be muddled or cloudy, a risk in a big church like St. Gabriel’s. He must also be aware of what “stops”, or instruments, are being used at all times. All while he controls the volume of the sound with his foot on the pedals. “We trust the sound to emerge from the attention paid to the details,” Kevin, also with us at the interview, explains. “If you trust the composer and your skill, the audience will hear the true glory of the music.”

Between pulling stops, playing on the manuals and controlling for volume, organ playing is not only cerebrally challenging, it is also physically demanding. But Victor, who regularly enjoys sports, especially basketball, is ready for the physical challenge.

As for the Toccata and Fugue itself, Victor commented, “At times it will be majestic and grand, at timeshaunting and spooky.” One thing’s for certain: it will fill the church with its haunting sound, making for an unforgettable experience. Just as I was about to hit “stop” on the recorder, Victor had something to add: “You know, I was just playing through the Toccata and Fugue at St. Gabriel’s, and this feeling came over me—I want to get this show on the road!”

He loves the music they have prepared and that he will be able to play with a host of talented orchestra members, one third of who are new to SPO. And, from the little bits he let slip, I think we can look forward to a surprise or two tomorrow. I hope to see you there!