by Daniel Hathaway
The major you declare in college doesn’t always turn out to be your career. Take the example of British-born organist David Baskeyfield, who will play a recital on Sunday, March 13 at 3:00 pm at Fairmount Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights.
Baskeyfield read Law at St. John’s College at Oxford University, where he also served as the college’s organ scholar. After graduation, he spent a year assisting at both Anglican Cathedrals in Dublin — Christ Church and St. Patrick’s — then crossed the pond to study for a doctorate in organ at the Eastman School of Music. He’s now pursuing a career as a concert organist, collaborative keyboardist, and continuo player, but he also ventures into the world of improvising scores to silent movies like Nosferatu, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and The Phantom of the Opera, and dabbles in theater organ music.
“I’m originally from the North of England,” Baskeyfield said in a telephone conversation from his home in Rochester, NY. “My grandmother, who still lives just outside Blackpool, got me for my birthday three VHS tapes of the Wurlitzer organ in the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, whose sole function is to provide music for dancing. I watched those tapes until they broke. I really was hooked. Then when I came to Eastman, I found that one of the finest theater organs in the world was just down the street.”
Early in the 20th century, playing organ for the cinema was the daily bread and butter of many church organists in Britain. Today, David Baskeyfield only does that on the side. “I enjoy it, but I’m reluctant to do theater organ recitals because it’s a very different format. You’re expected to play for long periods of time, and riff and improvise. I know more about classical music, but I do enjoy jazz and a little bit of cocktail piano.”
Having completed his studies at Eastman, Baskeyfield remained in the Rochester area to take up a full-time position as director of music at Christ Episcopal Church in Pittsford, NY, an old village six miles from the city which has become a well-to-do commuting suburb. There he directs a volunteer choir of some 38 voices, anchored by five professional singers who serve as section leaders. With the help of an associate music director who is working on his own doctorate at Eastman, Baskeyfield finds the situation ideal for an organist who wants to pursue a concert career. “The church is very accommodating about playing recitals away, so long as the Sunday music stays good.”
On Sunday, Baskeyfield will revisit some of the repertoire he played in the final round of the Canadian National Organ Competition in Montréal in October, 2014, a performance that won him the top prize. (Watch a video of his performance here.) That was a sweet moment for the organist, who was eliminated in the first round of that contest in 2011 at the end of a very busy season. “I entered the Dublin and St. Alban’s competitions that summer, and I was very tired by the time the Montréal contest came around. After I earned my doctorate in 2014, I wanted to have another go at it.”
Because the repertoire for the final rounds of the Montréal competition is entirely the choice of the performer, Baskeyfield adopted a strategy in 2014 that seems to have paid off.
“You don’t want to feel that you’re pandering, but there’s an audience prize involved, and I thought a lot about choosing pieces that would be audience-friendly as well as interesting to a panel of judges. I’ve been in competitions where I didn’t really like the music I had to play very much, but I really enjoyed this one.”
The same goes for his program in Cleveland. “It’s all repertoire I really like, but I try to be pretty eclectic and include something for everyone. I enjoy including composers like Saint-Saëns and Mozart that people don’t automatically associate with the organ.”
Baskeyfield went on to talk about two of the more unusual works on his program, beginning with Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue, K. 546. “I first heard Cherry Rhodes play it in Rochester,” he said. “It’s a transcription by Jean Guillou, with whom she studied. It’s absolutely bonkers. The fugue is almost tongue-in-cheek: you hear the subject in every possible combination and it just gets crazier and crazier until an outrageous penultimate chord — followed by a very perfunctory cadence. It’s one of my favorite pieces to play.”
Though you might not expect André Isoir’s Variations on a Huguenot Psalm to charm an audience, Baskeyfield said the piece has been warmly received. “It’s in the ‘Haarlem avant-garde’ idiom,” he said, referring to the famous Dutch improvisation contest that Isoir won three times. “I’ve played this piece for a lot of audiences, and it’s always the one that people comment on the most. They’re surprised by how much they like it. He uses the tune very cleverly, with a lot of sound effects — what’s uncharitably described as the ‘New Dutch School of Silly Noises.’ It’s very avant-garde, but easy to listen to, and you can hear the tune clearly all the way through.”
David Baskeyfield’s recital on the 100-rank Schantz organ at Fairmount will also include J.S. Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in a, BWV 543, Wolfgang Amadè Mozart’s Adagio and Allegro in F, K. 594, Marcel Dupré’s Prelude and Fugue in g, Op. 7, No. 3, Louis Vierne’s “Impromptu” (Pièces de Fantasie, Suite 3), Camille Saint-Saëns’s Fantasie in D-flat and Franz Liszt’s Prelude and Fugue on BACH. A freewill offering will be received.
Published on ClevelandClassical.com March 10, 2016.
Click here for a printable copy of this article