Nine European cities in seven weeks. Professor of Professional Practice Gail Archer played the organ in concerts across Europe this summer—from Germany to Russia. Archer is the Director of the Barnard-Columbia Chorus and Chamber Choir and a Grammy-nominated concert organist. She has taught at Barnard for nearly three decades, has recorded eight albums, and is the founder of Musforum, an online magazine dedicated to affirming and promoting the work of women organists. In spring 2008, Archer became the first American woman to play the complete works of France’s Olivier Messiaen in honor of the composer’s birthday. Archer followed her 2017 summer tour up with a new solo album, A Russian Journey, featuring works by 19th and 20th Century Russian composers, including members of the Russian Five and their successors. (Read a Q & A about here amazing career.)
Below, she shares snapshots from her venues and samples of her music.
June 24: Bochumer Orgeltage in Bochum, Germany
“The transatlantic flight from Newark Liberty to Düsseldorf was a pleasure, and upon landing, my colleague Arno Hartmann took me directly to Bochum where I had two days to prepare the concert program. All the organists in this series are playing a version of Martin Luther’s hymn "A Mighty Fortress is our God" to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The version I played was composed by Max Reger (1874-1916). The organ is a mechanical action organ, which means you must register each piece by hand and have an assistant pull and push stops during the concert. The current church is a simple modern brick building; the original building was destroyed during World War II, and the only original piece still standing from the old church is the tower.
“The concert at Bochumer Orgeltage included works by German composers Buxtehude and Bach, American women composers Joan Tower and Mary Howe, Russian composers Shaversashvili and Slonimsky and Reger at the end.”
June 29: Chiesa di Materdomini in Catanzaro, Italy
“The organ at [Chiesa di Materdomini in] Catanzaro was built by the Italian firm Fratelli Ruffatti. Catanzaro is the capital of the Calabria region and home to about 90,000 people. My colleague, Salvatore Pronesti, is an organist and organ builder and this afternoon, because it is very humid and the organ needs special care in this environment, he is in the pipe chest tuning the organ.”
July 6: Chiesa di San Domenico in Palermo, Sicily
“I arrived in the ancient city of Palermo, the capital of Sicily, early yesterday evening. The Church of San Domenico is the largest in the city, even larger than the [Palermo] cathedral, and has two fine organs at the front of the church.
“On the left side of the altar is a 17th century historic organ with just one keyboard and one octave of small pedals; on the right side is a modern organ with three keyboards and a full pedalboard. I will play a divided program that consists of early music played on the historic organ and romantic and modern music played on the modern organ.”
July 15: Dunblane Cathedral in Dunblane, Scotland
“Dunblane is about 40 minutes from Edinburgh, in the Scottish countryside. The original cathedral was completed in 1180 but there was considerable restoration performed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This is an ancient part of the world that has wonderful old castles nearby, including Doune Castle where one of the Monty Python films was filmed, and Stirling Castle, which was home to Mary Queen of Scots. I have a personal connection here because the Archer family hails from Glasgow, and my son Nick is a dual citizen of Great Britain and the United States. It is a special privilege to play in a place where one has family heritage.
“The organ is a modern Flentrop built in 1989 by famous Dutch organ builders. Much of the case is original carving, as the Dutch firm carefully [recreated] any additions made to the woodwork.”
July 16: Methodist Central Hall Westminster in London, England
“I arrived in London last night and stayed in the home of a Methodist Church member. Together we went to the Methodist Hall, which is located in the center of London across the street from Westminster Abbey. In 1946, the Methodist Hall was home to the United Nations for the first six months of its existence. The Hall has a large international congregation, and I attended their morning worship service. Even though the concert took place at the same time as the Men's Final at Wimbledon, the small audience was enthusiastic and included the Dean of the Organist Guild in Sydney, Australia, who graciously invited me to contact him for a future trip Down Under. I am off to the Isle of Man this evening.”
July 17: Castletown Methodist Church in Castletown, Isle of Man
“I am on the Isle of Man for a few days and played at two small parish churches with lovely organs, in Chestertown and in Douglas. The first organ [left] was built in 1912 by a local builder, and the second was built by the famous English firm of Harrison and Harrison in 1999. Both organs are in perfect condition and a pleasure to play. I am staying with my friends Paul and Gill Dunderdale who have always lived on the island. Paul directs a wonderful wind band (brass and woodwinds together) which tours the British Isles as well as in Europe.”
July 21: Temple of the Renaissance in Bryansk, Russia
“I traveled from the Isle of Man to London and then flew from London via Riga to Moscow, where I stayed one night. I then took the train from Moscow to Bryansk—I was told Bryansk was "close" to Moscow, but distance is relative in Russia—it took nearly five hours of additional travel time. The Baptist church in Bryansk was known as the Temple of the Renaissance during Communist times and the name has remained. The story of the organ is that it was built by an American firm, the Hinner Organ Co. of Pekin, Illinois in the late 19th century, and was installed in a church in Detroit. When the Detroit church purchased a new organ in the mid-1990's, they looked for a place to donate the old organ. Ivan Romenenko, the organist/choirmaster here, had a connection in Detroit and was able to secure the organ for the church in Bryansk in 1998. It is a lovely instrument, and the people here are grateful to have a good instrument for their services and concerts.
“Ivan and Tatyana Romenenko hosted me in their large brick home and considerable garden, which they and their children built and grow their own food in. This is my third visit to Russia, and I am looking forward to tonight's concert and performing classical music for the Russian people.”
August 2: Philharmonic Hall in Khmelnytsky, Ukraine
“I am having a wonderful time traveling in overnight trains to get from one part of Ukraine to the other. There are no seats on these trains, only bunk beds, with four people to a cabin in first class. There are even more beds in second class, which I also did on this trip and on previous trips to this part of the world. It is really an adventure.”
August 11: Basilika Mariaska in Gdansk, Poland
"I am now in Gdansk, one of my favorite cities, where there is a lovely organ at the basilica. On the one hand, I am a little tired and ready to return home but I'm also inspired by the music and the many wonderful people I have encountered along the way. After a long summer tour, I always have a fresh perspective on my work."
In spring 2013, Professor Archer performed a five-concert series called "The Muses Voice: A Celebration of International Women Composers." The subsequent studio recording, The Muse’s Voice, presents some of the most prominent women composers of the 20th and 21st Centuries.
WNYC Radio interview on the need for more female composers.
Archer celebrates Franz Liszt's 200th birthday in 2011, with a recording of organ works and transcriptions for Franz Liszt-A Hungarian Rhapsody.
The power of American composers is realized in Archer’s 2008 An American Idyll.