FIU’s king of instruments

The 4,226-pipe concert organ offers listeners a full-body experience

“O God, to whom vengeance belongeth, show thyself.” So begins the anguished Psalm 94 of the Old Testament.

In 1857, German composer Julius Reubke set the Biblical poem to music for the “King of Instruments,” the pipe organ. The 30-minute sonata is regarded as one of the 19th century’s greatest organ compositions.

This fall, FIU organist and music librarian Dan Hardin played the sonata on the 4,226-pipe Schantz organ in the Wertheim Performing Arts Center in a performance that allowed the audience to experience the grandeur of the Wertheim organ, considered one of the finest pipe organs in Florida. Built in 1999 for nearly $700,000, the organ is the crown jewel of the Wertheim Concert Hall and would cost millions of dollars to build today.

The “Sonata on the 94th Psalm” brings to life the range of the organ, from the flitter of the flute to the rumble of the tuba. The initial soft and searching notes quickly swell to a powerful plea as David, the psalm’s author, asks, “How long shall the wicked triumph?”

From the audience, you feel the sounds of the organ filing the room, moving the air, reverberating down your spine. This is music that makes you sit up in your seat.

“That’s what happens when you have air going through the pipes,” says Hardin. “You have a presence in the room you cannot get with electronic instruments. It is such a majestic and glorious sound.”

A gift of longtime FIU philanthropist Dr. Herbert Wertheim, FIU’s pipe organ was custom made by one of the country’s preeminent organ builders, the Schantz Organ Company of Ohio. The organ’s completion earned FIU the cover photo of the October 1999 issue of the journal The American Organist with an accompanying essay by Schantz Tonal Director Jeffrey Dexter. In his essay, Dexter noted that Schantz organs are typically built for churches, so Schantz relished the opportunity to customize an organ for a university with a thriving School of Music and outstanding concert hall.

“This instrument is unquestionably one of the finest concert organs to be found anywhere in the state of Florida,” Dexter wrote.

FIU graduate student Adrian Quesada, who is studying piano performance, recently began studying on the Wertheim organ. He has played on other church organs but FIU’s organ, he said, is something special.

“The sound and color representation it offers is great,” he said. “Nothing compares to it.”   ♦


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