It took four years, but the organists have at last landed in the Twin Cities. After a COVID-19 delay, the North Central American Guild of Organists launched an 11-concert celebration of the instrument on July 4th, and local classical music lovers are invited along.

Tuesday's opening concert made the big sound of a pipe organ even bigger by augmenting it with an orchestra. Three organ concertos were on the program at the University of St. Thomas' Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas, two from this century, and the concert overflowed with all the grandeur one could desire.

Half of the works were by St. Paul-based composers. While it was wonderful to hear Stephen Paulus' 1992 Organ Concerto played exceptionally well in the neighborhood where the composer lived, the concert's most memorable performance was of James Callahan's Organ Concerto No. 2, which was premiered last year, but deserves to be more widely heard.

The 2022 work sounds very much of its time, perhaps a requiem for victims of the pandemic — and an aural distillation of the grief and anxiety of the era — which felt particularly appropriate to open this pandemic-delayed convention. An orchestra of top-notch Twin Cities-based musicians was kept in ideal balance with organ soloist Jacob Benda under Callahan's direction, the pure and passionate tones of French horn soloist Neal Bolter piercing through the gravitas with a sound something like comfort and compassion.

Callahan's concerto has echoes of Anton Bruckner in its use of long held notes and simple structures, but Gustav Mahler also sounds like an influence in the work's anguished cries of grief in the funereal opening and Steve Kimball's urgently powerful pounding of the timpani at its conclusion. To say that it's a work that demands to be heard seems quite literal while you're experiencing it, as it fairly screams with emotion.

Benda teamed for another 21st-century piece with Jaclyn Rainey, the Minnesota Orchestra's acting associate principal French horn. Craig Phillips' Serenade for Horn and Organ proved an absorbing chamber work with long flowing lines that played to Rainey's mellifluous strengths.

If it weren't for an evening-opening all-stops-out "Star-Spangled Banner," the concert's most familiar work would have been J.S. Bach's Concerto in D Minor, most commonly heard with a pianist or harpsichordist as soloist.

I enjoyed my first experience with an organ as the solo instrument, James Bobb gracefully gliding between the multiple keyboards on the chapel's 1987 Gabriel Kney organ, which is a gorgeously statuesque instrument full of finely crafted woodwork. And conductor William Eddins kept the orchestra in fine balance with the organ, particularly on an Adagio that used the chapel's resonance to ample effect.

Speaking of balance, Kristina Rizzotto proved an exceptionally strong soloist on the Paulus concerto, making certain to bring a brightness forth amid the orchestra's often dark lines. And she deftly negotiated the multiple mood swings in the concerto's finale, Eddins coaxing from the orchestra a sound suitably dramatic but never histrionic.

North Central American Guild of Organists

When and where: Music for organ, brass and choir, 7 p.m. Wednesday, Cathedral of St. Paul, 239 Selby Av., St. Paul; a church opera by Stephen Paulus, 7 p.m. Thursday, House of Hope Presbyterian Church, 797 Summit Av., St. Paul; and a recital by Wayne Marshall, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Northrop auditorium, 84 SE. Church St., Mpls. Also daytime recitals by organists at Twin Cities churches.

Tickets: $20-$30, available at

Rob Hubbard is a Twin Cities classical music writer. Reach him at