So, Angela Kraft Cross must be a pretty special person. A graduate of Oberlin College and Oberlin’s Conservatory of Music, she is a professional organist (she has given over 350 concert performances) and composer, she was a music and physics major as an undergraduate, and she went on to get a medical degree, working as an eye surgeon for over 20 years in California before retiring two years ago to devote full time to her music and to music education. She is still a relatively young woman.
She was the featured artist yesterday at the Church of the Epiphany in Washington, where she gave a solo concert on the church’s recently restored Aeolian-Skinner Organ (I don’t know much technically about organs, but this particular one has four keyboards, and “64 ranks, 62 stops, and 3,467 pipes”. That has to be pretty good.
It was a wonderful hour long concert – both the instrument and the artist were in top form.
She called her program one of romantic music, and then she started with Bach’s Fantasie and Fugue in G minor, which she (quite rightly, I thought) identified not as baroque, but as romantic, or at least proto-romantic. And it’s harmonies are quite lush, with little of the staccato and counterpoint you would expect. From there, she went to Robert Schumann’s Canon in A-Flat major, a softer piece, that she said was written originally for the piano-flugel, something new to me. Called in English a pedal piano, this is an instrument which combines a standard piano, with a full range of organ-like pedals, which play the bass notes, and are each connected to its own strings. Interesting concept, and I think undergoing its own mini-renaissance today.
The Schumann was followed by Liszt’s Prelude and Fugue on B-A-C-H, an enjoyable and powerful piece which again introduced me to a new concept, and one I don’t understand at all. This is the concept of German Musical Notation, which has notes going through H, not G, and where the B notation is a b-flat, and the H notation is a b. At least, that is how I understood it, and how Liszt was able to write his tribute to Bach using the four letters of his name.
The fourth piece was by the performer, and is called Homage to Henri Nouwen, From The House of Fear to the House of Love, and was written about five years ago. For obvious reasons, I had little expectation here, but to my surprise found this prelude/fugue combination beautiful and enticing. So here’s to hearing it again some time; this was it’s first live performance in DC. (By the way, I had not heard of Nouwen, who was a Catholic priest, professor and author, who worked not only in large parishes, but also devoted time to working with the underprivileged and disabled. Seemed another extraordinary person.)
Cross’ (or should it be Kraft Cross’) last two pieces were movements from two turn of the century vintage French symphonies, one by Louis Vierne and one by Charles Marie Widor. OK, here we go again, I had not heard of either composer. The artist said that they were two of a number of French romantic composers of this period who are little known now. But on the basis of these two movements (a brief intermezzo and an allegro), they deserve much more play.
Not only an enjoyable hour long concert, but an informative one. Kudos to Angela Kraft Cross.