Cameron Carpenter, outlaw virtuoso organist

Last week I was at the national convention of the American Guild of Organists in the Twin Cities, Minnesota.  Too much for one post, so I’ll be adding several posts about events of note over the next few days.  The of the most outrageous recitals (in a mostly good way) was Cameron Carpenter’s program. He shared the recital with his former Juilliard teacher John Weaver.  Mr. Weaver is a player of the older generation, very elegant and musical.  At the conclusion of his set (for which he received a well-deserved standing ovation), he introduced Cameron as a “talent of Mozartean proportion.”  Mr. Weaver went on to say that although Cameron was his student for a year, he didn’t teach Cameron anything, but rather the Juilliard School paid him to listen to Cameron every week for an hour.

Cameron Carptenter is trying to bring the organ to a new audience—he’s out to be the rock star of the organ world.  He has more pure technical ability that anyone I’ve ever heard (with the possible exception of the young Jean Guillou) and he feels free to make music his own.  Fifteen or twenty years ago AGO audiences would have been outraged (in a bad way) by his performance, because it in no way matches any kind of “historically informed” performance practice.  Now people look more for musicianship, musical communication skills, and even showmanship, all of which Cameron Carpenter has by the boatload.  On his program he played music as diverse as one of Jeanne Demessieux’s nearly impossible Etudes, a piece by Leo Sowerby, and Cameron’s own “synthesized” version of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, which incorporates elements from just about every transcription that has ever been made of the piece.  He concluded with an encore, a transcription of John Philip Sousa’s march “Stars and Stripes Forever.”  It’s one of Cameron’s regular parlor trick/showpieces.  Here it is on youtube.  Note how he plays the piccolo obbligato the first time not with his fingers, but with his feet in the pedals: amazing.

Cameron wore a similar all-white outfit for his Minnesota recital as in the video. Organists (being by nature very catty) always have some sort of comment.  As the audience was filing out of the church sanctuary after the program, I heard a gentleman comment, “That nurse sure can play the organ.”   Later in the week I encountered Cameron on the street in a black tank top and chartreuse green skin-tight jeans. He only had moderate eye makeup on.  Needless to say you will not be seeing Virtual Farm Boy in a similar outfit.  Always stylish basic black for VFB.

4 thoughts on “Cameron Carpenter, outlaw virtuoso organist

  1. I can’t imagine just listening… half the fun is watching him play. I can barely pat my head and rub my tummy at once, much less have hands and legs moving in opposite, coordinated ways.

  2. His technical and musical skills transcend all of the organists that I have heard to date. It is very “refreshing” and reassuring to know that there are musicians that are still young enough to save the organ from becoming a dying instrument. I suspect that Mr. Carpenter will develope even more (if that is possible) as he ages. I also hope that he will share his unique and fasinating musical abilities with other music students so that it may be passed on, and preserved for all to enjoy.

  3. Cameron stands alone as an organ virtuoso. His technique is peerless and astonishing. He will be the one
    (if anyone) to take the organ into new territories as Chopin did with the piano. No doubt he will continue to
    awe and amaze all who witness him play.

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