Longwood expands reach of organ face-off

Five talented musicians have advanced to the finals of the Longwood Gardens International Organ Competition, competing for the $40,000 Pierre S. du Pont First Prize.

The five finalists in the Longwood Gardens International Organ Competition are Alcee Chriss III (from left), Joshua Stafford, Michael Hey, Gregory Zelek, and Colin MacKnight. Photo courtesy of Longwood Gardens

The five finalists in the Longwood Gardens International Organ Competition are Alcee Chriss III (from left), Joshua Stafford, Michael Hey, Gregory Zelek, and Colin MacKnight. Photo courtesy of Longwood Gardens

Area residents who weren’t quick enough to snag tickets, which sold out, will still have an opportunity to catch the drama as Alcee Chriss III of Texas, Michael Hey of Wisconsin, Colin MacKnight of Maryland, Joshua Stafford of New York and Greg Zelek of Florida face off on Saturday, June 18, on the famed Longwood Organ, according to a Longwood press release.

A live stream will be available at www.Longwoodgardens.org/organcompetition, starting at 1 p.m.

The winner will receive the $40,000 Pierre S. du Pont First Prize, a contract with Phillip Truckenbrod Concert Artists, and a 2016-17 performance at Longwood. Second place receives the Firmin Swinnen $15,000 prize and third place receives the Clarence Snyder $5,000 prize. Swinnen and Snyder were past resident organists at Longwood.

The Longwood Organ is the largest residential organ in the world, with 10,010 pipes, 146 ranks, and a beautiful console. This kingly instrument is not easy to wrestle with musically, but these valiant performers have proved their chops. All of the contestants performed a varying and challenging repertoire, which ranged from Bach to Wagner, Debussy to Mozart, to name just a few composers, the release said.

The competition is fierce. Two returning competitors– Adam Pajan and Thomas Gaynor – made the final five in 2013 but failed to repeat that success this year. Those that did qualify possess some impressive credentials, according to the release.

Alcee Chriss III, 23, of Texas has performed throughout the U.S. and France and is emerging as an outstanding young concert artist of virtuosity and versatility. He has won top prizes at international and national competitions, receiving first prize and audience prize in the Miami International Organ Competition (2014), the Albert Schweitzer Organ Competition in Wethersfield, Conn. (2013), and the Quimby Regional Competition for Young Organists in Austin, Texas (2013). An alumnus of Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Alcee received a master’s degree in historical keyboard and a bachelor’s degree in organ.

Michael Hey, 25, of Wisconsin, has been described as flashy and exciting by Michael Thomas Crisostomo in The American Organist. Hey is a 2014 graduate from The Juilliard School. A few months after graduation, he was appointed assistant director of music and organist of Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York. In September 2015 Hey played organ for Pope Francis's visit to the U.S. in services at Saint Patrick's Cathedral and Madison Square Garden. He played Francis Poulenc's Organ Concerto with the New York City Ballet on multiple occasions and is now in his second season performing with the Paul Taylor Dance Company at Lincoln Center. He is a graduate of Juilliard's five-year accelerated bachelor/master degree program.

Colin MacKnight, 22, of Maryland, is in his final year of the accelerated bachelor/master degree program at The Juilliard School, studying with Paul Jacobs. MacKnight is organ scholar at New York City’s Church of the Resurrection under music director, David Enlow. After winning the New York City American Guild of Organists Chapter Competition in March 2015, McKnight advanced to the Northeast regional competition and won first place in June. In October 2013, he won first prize in the Rodgers Organ Competition. He is an associate of the American Guild of Organists.

Joshua Stafford, 27, of New York, is the director of music at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morristown, N.J, where he conducts multiple choirs. He received a bachelor’s degree from the Curtis Institute of Music in 2010 as a student of Alan Morrison and a master’s from the Yale School of Music in 2012 as a student of Thomas Murray and Jeffrey Brillhart. In demand as a recitalist and improviser, Stafford has performed at many notable venues on the East Coast and has been featured on MPR’s Pipedreams and WRTI’s Wanamaker Organ Hour.

Greg Zelek, 24, of Florida, is a graduate organ student of Paul Jacobs at The Juilliard School, where he is a recipient of the Kovner Fellowship and received his bachelor of music degree. Zelek performed Poulenc’s Organ Concerto with the Miami Symphony Orchestra in 2011 and played Strauss’s Alpine Symphony with the MET Orchestra in Carnegie Hall in October 2012. Zelek was also the organist in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Faust, and performed twice with the New World Symphony in 2014. He is the music director and organist at the Episcopal Church of St. Matthew and St. Timothy in New York City.

A distinguished panel of experts will judge the 2016 competition, including David Briggs, a United Kingdom native and now artist-in-residence at St. James Cathedral in Toronto; Peter Richard Conte, principal organist at Longwood Gardens and Grand Court organist of the renowned Wanamaker Organ in Philadelphia; Ken Cowan, associate professor and head of organ at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music in Texas; Isabelle Demers, head of the organ program at Baylor University in Texas; and Dong-ill Shin, professor of organ at Yonsei “University in Seoul” in South Korea.

Michael Barone, executive producer and host of the popular radio show Pipedreams, will serve as competition host.



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