Cameron Carpenter, flash and substance on an organ (with or without pipes)

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When organist Cameron Carpenter performs in Los Angeles on Sunday, he’ll be playing at the First Congregational Church. And his Walt Disney Concert Hall debut already looms; it’s an all-Brahms program scheduled for May 2011. Yet those listeners could be in for a surprise, because Carpenter has lately been devoting great effort to something called the virtual pipe organ – essentially an all-electronic version of the instrument. That’s right: a pipe organ with no pipes.

“I would very much like to take it to Disney Hall,” said Carpenter of his virtual pipe organ, despite the presence of the auditorium’s highly regarded and distinctive-looking real pipe organ.


‘I’m looking forward to taking the virtual pipe organ to places with organs. It’s not a challenge. And why should audiences in L.A. be denied the chance to hear an instrument designed for an individual artist? How am I, for instance, to play bluegrass on the Disney Hall organ? It has no percussion instruments like theater organs do. And the more tools you have, the better.”

Carpenter’s approach gets to the very heart of what defines an instrument. “I, as in many things, take the most liberal possible definition,” he said. “There are some who would say that it’s not an organ if it doesn’t have pipes. To me, the only fake organ would be one that looks like an organ but doesn’t function. You can’t look at 80 years of jazz, which would not have existed without the Hammond organ, and say that’s not an organ. I’m also always interested in what will interest the audience – not what they will enjoy, but what is significant for them.”

Watch some samples of Cameron performing and read Calendar’s profile of Carpenter here.

-- David Mermelstein

[For the record. an earlier version of this post said that First Congregational Church the is on Wilshire. It is on 540 S. Commonwealth Ave.]