The newly expanded pipe organ in the Saint John’s Abbey and University Church has been up and running for nearly two years. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, plans to showcase the instrument’s vastly richer and more powerful sound had to be delayed.
That began to change last September when the official blessing was finally held. A Halloween concert featuring SJU graduates George Maurer ’88, Matt Haider ’08 and Fr. Bob Koopmann, OSB followed in October.
But perhaps the biggest opportunity yet to showcase the results of the project – which was completed in May 2020 under the direction of renowned organ designer Martin Pasi and added nearly 3,000 new pipes – will come Saturday, Feb. 26.
That’s when internationally-acclaimed brass ensemble the Canadian Brass is scheduled to make its first visit to SJU since October 1985 to perform alongside up-and-coming organist Greg Zelek in a concert scheduled for 8 p.m. in the Abbey Church.
The performance is included in this year’s Fine Arts Programming Series and is funded in part by the Steve Noack Endowment in Popular Music and Jazz Studies Fund.
General admission tickets are $28. Tickets are $21 for CSB+SJU faculty and staff and $8 for current CSB+SJU students. Tickets for Seniors 60+ are $25 while tickets for youth/student ID are $15.
They can be purchased online or by calling 320-363-5777.
“People are going to see a world-famous brass quintet playing music that has been composed or arranged to go with organ,” said Koopmann, the former SJU President and longtime music professor who has been playing the organ for decades. It now boasts over 6,000 pipes ranging from the size of a pencil to nearly 850 pounds.
“They will get to experience the most fantastic pipe organ sound they could possibly imagine,” Koopmann said. “The sound perfectly fills up the size of the church. It’s really an incredible thing to behold.”
The Canadian Brass was formed in 1970 and is still led by founding member Chuck Daellenbach on tuba. Over the years, the group has sold over two million albums worldwide, performed across the globe and appeared on television programs like The Tonight Show, The Today Show, Entertainment Tonight and numerous PBS specials.
They last played in Collegeville in October 1985 to celebrate the completion of an expansion of the Stephen B. Humphrey Theater. This latest stop is one of two scheduled in Minnesota this year, the second on May 1 in Minneapolis.
Zelek is principal organist of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and curator of the Overture Concert Organ, where he oversees all of the MSO's organ programming. In addition, he regularly performs with other orchestras as both a soloist and professional ensemble member, including the MET Orchestra, Florida Orchestra, New World Symphony, Ridgewood Symphony, Miami Symphony and Jacksonville Symphony.
In 2016, The Diapason magazine, which covers organ and church music, named him as one of its top “20 Under 30” organists.
“Playing in churches has been part of our history since almost the very beginning,” Daellenbach said of his group. “It’s kind of a natural fit. Churches are some of the greatest places sonically for a brass ensemble to play, and sooner or later you meet the organists. One thing leads to another and it’s an incredible combination of sound.
“We’ve been hearing about how powerful this (expanded) organ is and we’re eager to hear the results.”
The performance had originally been scheduled for last year, but had to be delayed due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic.
“We’ve been planning this event for a long time, even pre-Covid, as part of several big celebratory events meant to honor and recognize the new organ,” said Tanya Gertz, the executive director of Fine Arts Programming at CSB+SJU. “It’s such an amazing thing on campus.
“I feel confident that anyone who attends this performance is going to come away from it with a real sense of ‘Wow!’ When you combine such an accomplished brass ensemble with an acclaimed organist and the power of the expanded organ, there isn’t any part of this that isn’t going to feel special.”