In a world-famous cathedral with a world-famous pipe organ, it’s only fitting that its marquee concert would also be world-class.
THE NEWLY RESTORED HAZEL WRIGHT ORGAN IS THE FIFTH LARGEST IN THE WORLD. PHOTO BY STEVEN GEORGES/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
That’s what’s expected on June 20, when Christ Cathedral’s newly restored Hazel Wright Organ — which, at 17,000-plus pipes, is the fifth largest in the world — combines her considerable prowess with that of the Pacific Symphony, Pacific Chorale and soloist Paul Jacobs.
“This is going to be the perfect culmination of Hazel’s dedication year and the Year of Hazel,” said David Ball, principal organist and the Cathedral’s head of music
At the behest of Bishop Kevin Vann, the Diocese of Orange finished its restoration of the massive instrument in 2022, after nearly a decade of work. Bishop Vann blessed Hazel that June, and the celebratory Year of Hazel concert series kicked off last September with soloist Hector Olivera.
Since then, it’s been all Hazel all the time with Christmas music, interfaith singers and other soloists — not to mention two new albums, a book and documentary.
The concert conducted by Carl St.Clair (and the chorale led by Robert Istad) will be presented in two parts. The first features the ensembles and Jacobs, the Grammy Award-winning organist who is credited with singlehandedly reviving the organ-and-orchestra subgenre of music. Ball studied with Jacobs at Juilliard.
“He is the premier performer for organ and orchestra,” Ball said.
Jacobs is no stranger to Hazel, as the instrument is affectionately known, having played her during the Cathedral’s prior life as the Crystal Cathedral under Dr. Robert Schuller.
“The Hazel Wright Organ is one of the great organs of the world, and quintessentially American in its conception and design,” Jacobs told Orange County Catholic last year. “Few instruments are as
comprehensive, cohesive and thrilling. It’s a national treasure.”
For the second half, Ball will take over Hazel’s five-manual console and command her nearly 300 ranks.
A full Pacific Symphony and 100-member Pacific Chorale will surround him in the cathedral choir loft, behind the altar space.
June’s concert will showcase the new work “Fiat Lux,” which means “Let there be light.” The work was commissioned by Howard and Robert Ahmanson.
This five-movement, 30-minute piece by Scottish composer Sir James MacMillan was inspired by Southern California earthquakes, fires and Christ Cathedral’s transformation from being the Crystal Cathedral. Its fifth movement is titled “Hymn: Cathedral of Light.”
“Fiat Lux” uses text based on a religious poem by California poet Dana Gioia, who wrote: “Rededicate / this crystal spire, / built in a land / of quake and fire.”
The work will use the full orchestra, choir, and soprano and baritone soloists. Assorted percussion will chime in too tubular bells, glockenspiel, gongs and more.
“Performing Beethoven’s monumental and spiritually uplifting Ninth Symphony during the opening of Christ Cathedral was a most memorable moment in my life and in the life of Pacific Symphony,” said St.Clair. “It is with utmost anticipation that I look forward to returning with the premiere of Sir James MacMillan’s ‘Fiat Lux,’ when we will all experience not only his beautiful score, but the voices of the Pacific Chorale and the glorious sounds of the iconic Hazel Wright Organ. Bringing this incredible music to Christ Cathedral will be a joyous occasion, one not to be missed.”
Added Ball: “Especially given the acoustics of the Cathedral, this will be the most sonic experience. Orchestra is the only thing that can keep up with the organ.”
Tickets for the June 20 concert are $25, which is a special price thanks to generous underwriting from the Ahmanson Foundation.
The concert starts at 8 p.m. For more information and to buy tickets, visit ChristCathedralMusic.org.