FASO guest artist: 'It's a privilege to play these great instruments'
By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
British organist David Briggs travels the globe to perform on some of the world's best organs, and one in Amarillo has been high on his to-do list.
"I've been to Texas quite a few times over the last 15 years, but never to Amarillo, and I'm looking forward to coming," Briggs said. "I've heard from various friends who are on the organ concert circuit that it's a beautiful Aeolian-Skinner, an American classic organ.
Briggs will perform on St. Andrew's Episcopal Church's highly regarded organ at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the church, 1601 S. Georgia St., on its Friends of Aeolian-Skinner, Opus 1024 concert series. Tickets are $30 for adults and $10 for students. Call 806-376-6316, ext. 105.
The organ, designed by G. Donald Harrison for the Aeolian-Skinner Co., was installed in 2005 after being acquired from the University of Texas.
"It's a marvelous instrument," said Briggs, who has not played on the Amarillo organ but has on similar ones around the world. "They always give the impression that they're a much larger instrument than they actually are. It's quite a bit of fun for a concert."
Most touring musicians can haul around with them their own instrument, but a 6,700 pipe organ isn't exactly portable. So each new city and new instrument poses new challenges for Briggs.
"In my career as a concert organist, I probably get to play 70 to 75 different instruments in a year," he said. "Each time, you have to re-invent the wheel. That's why you arrive at the venue two days in advance — not to learn the notes but to create as good a relationship with the instrument as you can.
"It's like a good marriage," he continued. "The instrument tells you things, and you ahve musical strategems and concepts that are your style. It's a nice osmosis between the two things. It makes what I do so much fun.
"It's a privilege to play these great instruments."
Briggs said he wanted to become a concert organist from age 6: "I remember being so frustrated because my legs weren't long enough to reach the pedals."
"I started taking piano lessons at age 7 or 8 but always with the viewpoint of becoming an organist," he said. "My granddad was quite a well-known organist in England. He was an engineer by profession, but every day after work, he'd go in and play for an hour before going home for supper."
Briggs, like his grandfather, is known for his skills as an improviser, as well as for his organ transcriptions of symphonic music by composers such as Gustav Mahler, Franz Schubert, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Edward Elgar, Anton Bruckner, Maurice Ravel and Johann Sebastian Bach.
In Amarillo, Briggs will perform works by Bach, Nicholas Jacques Lemmens, Louis-Claude D'Aquin, Charles-Marie Widor, Claude Debussy and Louis Vierne.
"Playing rep like I am in Amarillo, it'll take — my goodness, let's think — between six and eight hours to get the organ set up," Briggs said. "Every organ really is different. There are different acoustics. The voicing of the pipes is different. The touch is different. You just try to acclimatize to that."
Briggs also will perform an educational concert for area students to be livestreamed from the church at 10 a.m. Monday, which we'll livestream here.
"One of the most enjoyable things that I do in my job is to introduce young people to the sound of the music," Briggs said. "These days, fewer and fewer people — especially young children — have exposure to the sound of a real pipe organ. It's a remarkable thing to look in their eyes when they see the sheer vivacity of the sound."