Akron Baroque on Five@Five Series:
a conversation with organ soloist James Mismas
by Mike Telin
On Sunday, September 23 at 5:00 PM, Westminster Presbyterian Church in Akron begins the fourteenth season of its popular Five@Five series with a performance by Akron Baroque under the direction of Guy Bordo. The program features the music of Michael Haydn, Tartini with trumpeter Scott Johnston as soloist, and Mozart.
Sunday's program also includes Haydn’s Concerto in D major for organ and orchestra HOB. 18, No. 11 with James Mismas, Westminster Organist and Director of Music, as well as the man behind the Five@Five series, as soloist. We reached him by telephone at Westminster Presbyterian Church.
Mike Telin: I think congratulations are in order. You've been eighteen years at the church and this Sunday's concert begins the fourteenth season of Five@Five!
James Mismas: Thanks, but Westminster is a fabulous place and it is very supportive of programs like Five@Five. There has been a lot of enthusiasm for the series. Although we do collect a freewill offering, the series is funded through private donations which makes it possible for us to keep the concerts free. I do know that there are people who attend who can’t afford to buy a ticket.
MT: This Sunday's program sounds great.
JM: This is Akron Baroque's third season on the Five@Five series and it’s always a very popular concert.
MT: You are also the director of the Akron Baroque Chorus.
JM: Yes, and we most recently performed the Requiem by Akron Baroque’s founder, Amy Barlowe, last season.
MT: How did you decide on Haydn’s D Major concerto?
JM: Guy Bordo and I were talking and he said that he had heard about all of these piano concertos that existed in various incarnations in term of instruments, so he sent me a list and told me to pick the one that I wanted to play. So I picked this one.
MT: And it works on the organ?
JM: It works surprisingly well, and all in all it’s a very successful transition. We have our rehearsals this week, so I have not had a chance to hear it with orchestra, but I think it’s going to work quite well.
MT: Is there a score for this version, and are there any pitfalls that might not exist if you were playing it on the piano?
JM: No, I’m just using the piano score. The difference is that on the piano it’s much easier to go from loud to soft, because you can control the dynamic levels with your hands. On the organ you do that by switching manuals and stops, so it’s just a different way of accomplishing the same thing.
MT: How long did it take to figure out the manual changes and stop registrations?
JM: That’s interesting. I had foot surgery this summer which meant that I was able to practice the piano a lot. I was home with my foot propped up on a bench learning the concerto. And when I was practicing I would imagine what I wanted to do once I was able to play it on the organ and experiment with stops and manual changes. So it actually happened very quickly because I had thought about it a great deal.
MT: And the fact that Haydn’s music is always so much fun.
JM: Who doesn’t like his music? It’s pretty hard to resist. From his keyboard works to the choral works to his operas, you can tell this was one very happy guy. There’s something about his music, it’s just so full of life, energy and happiness.
We have done pieces like his Lord Nelson Mass on the choral festival that we do with the high school kids, and the Mass in Time of War and it always just infused with that beautiful life that his music has. And this concerto is the same way.
I don’t mean to imply that his music is [not deep]. If you play the middle movement of this concerto, it’s intense, touching and poignant. I think he has a profound place in the grand scheme of musical history.
MT: On a different topic, I’m not sure that people realize how versatile church musicians need to be, and how many competencies one has to have. And I have always been impressed with people such as yourself who do seem to be able to do everything. Additionally you also sang for many years in Ohio Light Opera, and ran opera programs as well as conducting large and small choruses. To what do you contribute your versatility?
JM: I don’t know but I feel terribly blessed that I have it and have not been afraid to pursue it. I do feel like the universe presents things to you and you either gravitate and move into them or you pass them by, and I’ve just chosen to move into them and take advantage and learn. All of my training has not been in these various things but we are a pretty facile group of people when it comes to figuring out what to do.
I will tell you that I credit Oberlin with giving me a foundation in a variety of ways that have boded me well for many years. I not only learned how to do the craft at the time but also to really understand how to autograph your work with excellence and what that means and how to go about doing it. Also what kind of commitment it takes to do it, and I learned that there. It was and is a very inspiring place.
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Published on ClevelandClassical.com September 18, 2012
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