The Cathedral of St. Paul, consistently rated among the Twin Cities' most visited sites, finally has got the big voice to go along with its imposing, classic Beaux-Arts looks.
On Thursday, the cathedral will officially take the wraps off its two newly refurbished pipe organs in the sanctuary and choir loft, marking the end of a three-year restoration project that propels the St. Paul church into the first rank of organ venues in the country.
Olivier Latry, an internationally known organist and teacher who plays at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, will perform an inaugural concert at 7:30 p.m. that's free and open to the public.
"It will really be fun to see how he reacts to the instrument and the acoustic, and that will be our stamp of approval," said Lawrence Lawyer, the cathedral's acting director of sacred music.
The $3.4 million project also helps complete the church's original design by French architect Emmanuel Masqueray, whose plans to properly house the choir loft's organ pipes went unfinished until now. The hand-carved gilded walnut casework for the pipes was designed by University of Notre Dame architect Duncan Stroik, based on Masqueray's blueprints, and crafted by a California studio.
Fundraising for the project was recently concluded successfully by the Cathedral Heritage Foundation, which now will build an endowment to maintain the organs.
The cathedral had hoped to debut the organs at Easter last spring, but the gallery organ took longer than expected to reassemble and fine-tune. It was first sounded at a mass in August.
The organs now employ 5,970 pipes, including about 1,000 new ones along with the originals that were painstakingly removed, carefully shipped to Missouri for cleaning and then reinstalled. The length of the pipes range from 32 feet to less than a pencil, Lawyer said.
The organs' ranks — different schools of sound produced by several pipes — have nearly doubled from 44 to 86. The loudest stops are the pontifical trompette, 61 pipes to be used for special processionals, and the Bombarde division reeds. Both stops are featured at the largest cathedral in the United States, St. John the Divine in New York City.
Another new distinction for the cathedral is identical twin consoles, each of which can be used to play either organ alone or together. The only other church with twin consoles is St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City.
"The organs really work as one," Lawyer said. "When you're sitting under the dome, you really can't tell from which end the sound is coming."
The cathedral's first organ, a 30-rank E.M. Skinner made in Boston, was installed in 1927 in the sanctuary behind the altar. It was joined in 1963 by the Æolian-Skinner organ in the gallery or choir loft.
Both organs recently had begun showing their age and became less capable of filling every corner of the church's massive interior with sound. To oversee the restoration, the cathedral hired Michael Quimby of Quimby Pipe Organs, Warrensburg, Mo., who rebuilt a Skinner organ at St. John the Divine.
Lawyer recently tested the organs' sound for a TV crew by playing the Vikings' fight song. In addition to the cathedral's liturgies and ceremonies, he said, the organs will be used by visiting orchestras and choirs.
"Archbishop [John] Ireland said that the cathedral belongs to everyone. It's not just about what happens on Sunday," he said. "It's a refuge, a place of beauty, and beauty is what it's all about."