By Paul Goldfinger
It was the final concert of the 25th annual Summer Stars Classical Series, 2012 edition, and a superb concert it was. Jason Tramm was at the helm of a marvelous full orchestra with about 80 musicians. (I lost count somewhere in the middle of the brass section.) Two first rate opera stars were present including the OG tenor-in-residence Ronald Naldi of the Met, who always is a treat to hear.
A real special attraction for the OG long-hair crowd was the return of bass-baritone Kevin Short, who spent 16 years singing each summer in the Grove, but he now hails from Switzerland where they have four national languages, and he probably can sing in more than that. And to round out the all-star cast was Ocean Grove’s most valuable player: Gordon Turk on the roaring, fire-breathing, then suddenly soft and breathtaking Hope-Jones organ.
Also in attendance was a dream team of Giuseppe Verdi, Georges Bizet, Jules Massanet, Charles Gounod, and, playing center, Charles-Marie Widor, who wrote the organ symphony which Gordon Turk hit out of the park.
And, let’s not forget “Carnegie Hall South,” as it is sometimes called — the great wooden cello of a building, the Great Auditorium. This structure is, for music, a living, breathing organic space whose acoustics have been called “perfect or nearly perfect.” The building literally resonates with the notes and harmonics and rhythms of the music within, especially, as in this concert, when there was no amplification. Byung Kook Kwak’s violin, during Massanet’s “Meditation,” was so pure and sweet, as it was heard in every corner of the building, that you had to close your eyes and just focus on the sound — a duet combining the violin and the building.
Aside from the fact that the program was wonderful and the musicianship — well, it was first rate — there was something else going on that I found fascinating. John Shaw, the ultimate behind-the-scenes organ curator hero, was wearing his master-of–ceremonies hat when he introduced the program and, as a member of the board of the CMA, he offered a prayer, as they do before each concert in the GA.
We were expecting something like, “…and now ladies and gentlemen, the Festival Orchestra.” But no, Mr. Shaw had much more to say. He began by telling us that this concert was a tribute to the founders of Ocean Grove, who made it possible for us to be able to enjoy such a treat.
But then, he spoke of something unusual and powerful. He told us that 118 years ago, 36 men spent 92 working days constructing the Great Auditorium. Think about that accomplishment and think about someone remembering these proud “artisans, craftsmen, and laborers” who built something so remarkable — a place for the “spoken word and magnificent music.” “We can sense their presence here,” he said.
He also recalled those musical leaders who left us a legacy of serious music in this town, including Tali Essen Morgan, the former director of music in the Grove, who “established it as a place for great music.” He then lauded all the performers present for this concert, and he was thankful for them and the gifts which they possessed.
I don’t know how the CMA is able to put on a concert like this for under $15.00 per ticket and for such a small audience of a few hundred people. One contributing factor is all the people listed in the program, mostly Grovers, who endow this series. And then there is the Camp Meeting Association. They are all heroes also. In addition, we have to be amazed and thrilled that such happenings are made possible in our town.
Below: Gordon Turk from his CD, playing the Hope-Jones Organ (Bohm ”Praeludium”)