The Wanamaker Organ at 100 #1137
…a centenary tribute to the world’s largest functioning musical instrument, a magnificent landmark at Macy’s downtown department store in Philadelphia.
ALEXANDRE GUILMANT: Marche Religieuse on a Theme of Handel, Opus 15 –Peter Richard Conte; recorded October 16, 2007
Mr. Conte is playing only on stops that were part of the original organ as installed in Festival Hall at the Saint Louis World’s Fair in 1904.
JOHN HUGHES: Hymn, Guide me, o thou great Jehovah –Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Mack Wilberg, conductor. GEORGE GERSHWIN: I got rhythm –Richard Elliott, organ. WILL MacFARLANE: Reverie –Clay Christiansen, organ, recorded June 24, 2011
This remarkable instrument began life as the ‘world’s largest pipe organ’, but not in Philadelphia. The Los Angeles Art Organ Company, headed by William Boone Fleming, built it expressly for a Festival Hall at the 1904 World’s Fair in Saint Louis. With more than 10,000 pipes, at that time it was the world’s largest organ. When the fair closed and other plans for the instrument fell through, John Wanamaker purchased the instrument for installation in the 7-story central court of his revolutionary department store at 13th and Market Streets in downtown Philadelphia, where it has served continuously for a century.
In the decade following its re-inauguration at Wanamaker’s in 1911, the Grand Court Organ was greatly expanded under the watchful eye of its original designer, Mr. Fleming, and tonal advisor George Till, both employed by Wanamaker’s in the organ shop on the store’s upper floors. The instrument more than doubled in size, the directive from Rodman Wanamaker not to simply expand it but to create an integrated, unique musical instrument. And so it is! At present, with the store being under Macy’s banner since 2005 the 1911 Wanamaker organ boasts 28,543 pipes played from a six-manual console. Heard in noontime and evening performances every business day, plus in special events throughout the year, it continues to delight and surprise shoppers, and attracts listeners from every corner of the globe.
Ongoing special programming is sponsored by the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ. Mark your calendars for a rare ‘after-hours’ concert on October 1, 2011 at 8:30 p.m., featuring resident soloist Peter Richard Conte with conductor Rossen Milanov and the Symphony in C in a program of works for organ and orchestra by Widor, Jongen and Guilmant (Symphony Number 2). Be there for a unique experience! To whet your appetite, check out the numerous YouTube videos of the Wanamaker organ.
everal commercial recordings of the Wanamaker Organ are available on the Gothic label. Other special issues may be obtained from the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ. Peter Conte’s concert performances in this program were recorded by audio engineer James Stemke, to whom we offer thanks!