“It’s been a long-awaited arrival,” Neil said. “It’s a sound that’s never been heard in this city before. It will be exciting, it will be powerful, it will be colorful, and it will be just the ticket.” He went to the Kennedy Center with his camera, planning to take lots of pictures.
For the Canadian organ manufacturers Casavant Freres, this summer has been a tale of two organs in Washington. The $2 million Kennedy Center project, funded by David M. Rubenstein, was the culmination of years of planning; installation and fine-tuning will continue until the 5,000-pipe organ’s official inauguration in November. But earlier in the summer, the company saw another long-planned project come to fruition when it delivered a new three-manual, 2,262-pipe instrument, with a price tag of $750,000 — donated by John Van Wagoner, a member of the congregation for 60 years — to St. John’s Episcopal Church in Georgetown just before Independence Day.
“We had to clear the streets to get a 53-foot truck into Georgetown,” said Samuel Carabetta, the church’s music director and organist. “Plus O Street, where the church is, is completely under construction. They had to bring it in one way and back the truck up. It was also a holiday. It was a big deal.”
Every organ, big or small, is a big deal to the community where it arrives. Organs seem outdated to some, yet the thrill of the sound heard live is incomparable. When St. John’s was talking about a new organ, J. Reilly Lewis, the music director of the Cathedral Choral Society and Bach Consort as well as one of Washington’s prominent organists, made an impromptu YouTube video detailing, he said, “the virtues of a pipe organ over a digital one.” He was so convincing that he persuaded Van Wagoner, his father-in-law, to make the donation.
“Each one has its own personality,” said Jacquelin Rochette, the artistic director of Casavant Freres, speaking of the instruments the company builds at a rate of three to seven a year. “We want the instrument to represent the people who will be using it.”
The trucks may have arrived in the dark, but organ installation doesn’t happen overnight. Forget about the work involved in preparing a space for the thing: St. John’s had to fix its leaky roof; the Kennedy Center had to modify the balcony to accommodate a larger instrument (the Filene organ had about 1,000 fewer pipes). It takes a long time to place all those pipes; the St. John’s organ, delivered in July, is still incomplete.