Great acoustical spaces are key to hearing some of the region's most important organs.
Thomas Murray is a celebrated concert and recording artist, and plays Powel Crosley's magnificent personal E. M. Skinner pipe organ in the rotunda of Cincinnati Museum Center. Murray says "It's like being in a great cathedral of Europe."
Murray inaugurated the Museum Center's Grand E.M. Skinner Symphonic Concert Organ in 1999, and opened the concert series in 2002. The organ will be officially dedicated on March 7.
The organ's greatest champion is Harley Piltingsrud, a retired physicist, who estimates he has donated 18,000 hours over 25 years to carry out the restoration and installation of the "king of instruments." It started in 1986, when Piltingsrud, an amateur organist, walked into the rotunda and thought the space would be ideal for a pipe organ. He contacted organists on the faculty of the University of Cincinnati's College - Conservatory of Music Roberta Gary and David Mulbury about the idea, and soon gained backing from the Cincinnati Historical Society, as well as prominent local and national figures in music.
Piltingsrud learned from the Historical Organ Society that a home. In the heyday of symphonic organs - the '20s and '30s - virtuoso organists gave concerts in huge auditoriums, recreating the entire spectrum of a symphony orchestra on the instrument. In the 1990s, there was renewed interest, and the organs became regarded as national treasures.
"The orchestra was (Skinner's) inspiration. His idea was to make the organ as expressive and as full of nuance and color as the orchestra," Murray said.
Piltingsrud recently finished working on the 1929 E.M. Skinner "house organ" that was in the former home of Powel Crosley, Jr. The organ's more than 4,000 pipes are installed in five specially designed chambers surrounding the art deco rotunda. The console is rolled out from its glass case for concerts.
The concerts are free. Presenters say their reward comes from creating awareness for organ music.