The majestic Casavant Opus 1177 organ at St. Andrew's Lutheran Church is marking another milestone this year in its long and storied history.
The organ, which dates to 1927 and has been played by scores of revered recitalists, also spent 15 years of its existence languishing in a smelly Michigan barn.
This spring the Mahtomedi church is celebrating the 10th anniversary since the behemoth was given a second life in its sanctuary. The organ will be featured prominently in three concerts over the next two months.
The first takes place today, with church organist Bill Chouinard and the Grand Symphonic Winds teaming up to present a program of such works as David Gillingham's "Prophecy of the Earth," Jaromir Weinberger's "Polka and Fugue from Schwanda the Bagpiper," and the well-known hymn, "For the Beauty of the Earth."
"This has a happy ending," said Chouinard, who is also the church's music coordinator. "Of the hundreds of organs of this vintage, this size, many didn't find a home. This is a treat and a gem."
Originally installed in the stone chapel at the Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., the Casavant organ was moved to a new chapel on the campus of the prestigious prep school in the early 1930s. The powerful instrument was really too big for the new chapel, and with pipes stuffed in corners and placed in compromising positions, its sound was "stifled and muffled," Chouinard said.
The school, whose students have included actor Humphrey Bogart and Presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush, replaced the Casavant a half-century later, and the organ was shipped to Michigan, where it was to be installed in a performing arts center. That never happened, and for 15 years the organ rusted and deteriorated in a dilapidated barn, surrounded by animals.
A family attending St. Andrew's bought the organ in 1995. After the Schantz Organ Company in Ohio restored it, the organ was brought to Mahtomedi in 2001, and it has filled the 1,800-seat sanctuary with grand sound ever since.
"Sound like this is hard to come by," Chouinard said. "The organ needs to be in a place where it can be played and enjoyed."
The organ has been heard on two CDs and is featured on a third, which will be available on March 27 when Frederick Hohman performs in a recital at the church, at 900 Stillwater Road. Hohman is the former organist at Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif. He will play works by Bach, Alain, Franz and French organist Charles-Marie Widor's Symphony No. 5, "Toccata," the fast-moving piece that's often heard as a recessional at weddings, Sunday services and even at the close of the Christmas Midnight Mass at St. Peter's Basilica.
The church's 2010-11 music series will wrap up April 16 with a concert featuring the National Lutheran College's 25th Anniversary concert, with guest conductors from local Lutheran colleges at the podium.
Tim Harlow • 651-735-1824