SYMPHONY NOTES

The Heart of Jacoby Symphony Hall: The Bryan Concert Organ 

By Steven Libman, President and CEO of the Jacksonville Symphony 

Those who have attended a performance with the Jacksonville Symphony have likely seen the magnificent pipes of the Bryan Concert Organ that stretch behind the stage all the way to the ceiling. Affectionally called the heart of Jacoby Symphony Hall, the organ has the power to fill the space and even shake the rafters with its booming melodies. At the same time, it can perform warm and softer melodies, showing its versatile musical capabilities. Reflecting the Jacksonville Symphony’s initiative to be the first American orchestra to install a rebuilt, historic organ in a new concert hall, the story behind this instrument is unique and one we love telling.  

Quimby Pipe Organs, Inc. reconstructed and installed the 1912 Casavant organ, marking the official completion of Jacoby Symphony Hall in 2001. Originally called the Casavant Opus 553, the organ was commissioned in 1912 and constructed in 1914 for the First Baptist Church of Syracuse, New York, featuring four manuals, 63 stops, and 70 ranks. In the late 1980s, following the congregation’s relocation to a new suburban building, the organ went through a journey from New York to Illinois to Florida and eventually back to Illinois. 

In early 1996 a search committee from the Jacksonville Symphony discovered it in a Chicago warehouse. It was transported to Quimby Pipe Organs in Warrensburg, Missouri, in 1997 for a comprehensive rebuilding and restoration. Upon inspection, the inventory revealed the negative effects of storage on the organ. Many Casavant windchests were deemed irreparable due to dry rot or water damage, and numerous metal pipes were severely damaged or flattened. Wooden pipes showed split seams from either water damage or extreme dryness. What was initially anticipated as a standard rebuilding process quickly transformed into a massive restoration effort.

Christopher Emerson, a pipe maker, spearheaded the restoration of all flue pipework in Quimby Pipe Organs’ pipe shop, with significant assistance from Thomas Anderson. Tasks included removing dents, remaking smashed pipes and cleaning and fitting all metal pipes with new tuning slides. Stopped wood pipes underwent repacking, and split seams were reglued as needed. This intricate process took three years to complete. Seven semi-trucks then delivered it to Jacksonville, where it debuted in its new, custom-built home: Jacoby Symphony Hall. After its restoration, the instrument stands as a breathtaking, historical monument, now having 97 ranks, 80 stops, 6,215 pipes, and weighing nearly 20 tons. It is currently 110 years old and occupies a loft measuring 50 feet wide, 32 feet high, and 14 feet deep, positioned above and behind the orchestra platform. That’s as much space as a two-story house!

The move and restoration cost approximately $1.5 million. The money was donated by G. Howard Bryan as a memorial to the Bryan family’s long commitment to and involvement with the Jacksonville Symphony. In February 2005 the organ was officially named the Bryan Concert Organ as a dedication to the Bryan family. We are incredibly grateful for the generosity that allowed us to bring this colossal instrument to our hall.

“It was a pleasure to be involved in the process of installing, rebuilding, and funding this magnificent instrument,” says J.F. Bryan. “It adds an entirely new dimension to Jacoby Symphony Hall, not just aesthetically but musically. Most concert halls do not have an instrument like this, and we are proud to be the first orchestra in the country to install a rebuilt, historic concert organ in a new hall. Organ Series Curator Greg Zelek has done an exceptional job making his own arrangements for the organ and adding incredible programming to the symphony’s musical offerings. We are fortunate to provide this asset to our Jacksonville community.”

Since being installed, dynamic artists have showcased riveting performances ranging from recitals to collaborations with brass and percussion. We invite you to hear its magnificent sound resonating through the hall for our final Concert Organ Series performance this season, Organ Chamber Music, on Saturday, May 4. Led by Assistant Conductor Grant O’Brien and featuring Greg Zelek, this concert will highlight the tender side of the organ with string and wind players from the Jacksonville Symphony and a selection of colorful chamber repertoire. For tickets, visit JaxSymphony.org. We hope to see you soon. 

Author: Arbus

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