A "project of immense proportion" is how Salt Lake Tabernacle senior organist John Longhurst describes the design and construction of the new Conference Center organ. Now the organ will be showcased at an inaugural concert with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square on Thursday, June 19, at 7:30 p.m.
Free tickets for the concert, presented in conjunction with the biennial convention of the western regions of the American Guild of Organists, are available at the Conference Center ticket office, door 4, or at www.lds.org/events. Free tickets will be available also at selected Deseret Book stores along Utah's Wasatch Front. Admission is limited to those 8 years and older.
The concert and some 2 p.m. recitals June 16-19 are "the first time the organ really will have been heard as a solo instrument," Brother Longhurst noted in a Church News interview.
"The Conference Center organ has consumed an incredible amount of our time, energy, thoughts and prayers ever since the first day that President [Gordon B.] Hinckley announced the Conference Center on April 6, 1996," he said, adding that part of every day has been devoted to the design, installation and completion of the organ.
He said he does not know of another attempt to design an organ for a space as "monumental as the conference center."
"To design an instrument for such an immense room, when the room existed only in the mind of the architect, is a tremendous testimony to the skill of all those who contributed to the project. Jack Bethards, president and tonal director of Schoenstein & Co., deserves endless credit for his devotion. He was and is devoted to this project."
Though the organ case, facade and some of the pipes were in place when the Conference Center was first used for the April 2000 general conference, it was not yet completed, and an electronic organ was used on that occasion. The partially completed pipe organ was used at general conference the following October. The organ has now been completed, six years after construction on the Conference Center began.
The inaugural concert will feature Joseph Jongen's "Symphonie Concertante" with guest organist Todd Wilson performing. The choir and orchestra, led by Craig Jessop, will perform Leonard Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms."
The guest organist is recognized as one of the leading concert organists in the nation. He is director of music and organist at the Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in Cleveland, Ohio. He is also chairman of the Organ Department in the Cleveland Institute of Music and is organ curator of the Norton Memorial Organ in Severance Hall.
The new pipe organ contains 130 ranks of pipes totaling about 7,800 individual pipes. Somewhat higher wind pressures were needed and a stronger reed tone to achieve the full organ sound in the huge hall.
The pedal division is especially large because of the need for reinforced bass tones.