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Classicalite Q&A with Cameron Carpenter on 'If You Could Read My Mind', His International Touring Organ and Working With Terry Riley

by Maria Jean Sullivan   Oct 23, 2014 09:18 AM EDT

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We recently caught up with celebrated organ virtuoso Cameron Carpenter last week in Berlin where he is touring in support of, You Could Read My Mind. His latest record quickly became the top-selling classical album in the U.S. To wit, he has recently completed a custom built International Touring Organ (ITO) giving him the mobility to attract modernity in classical music abroad.

Its no wonder Carpenter, then, is the winner of the prestigious Bernstein Award. His talent has maintained numerous transcripts and collaborations with leading pop, jazz and classical musicians, including Terry Riley. We wanted to know how that experience was, among other things. Read below on what has ben a fascinating experience for Carpenter.

Classicalite: Congratulations on your latest album, If You Could Read My Mind, which made number one on the Billboard traditional classical charts. You feature a slew of work by great artists. How did you go from Bach to lightfoot?

Cameron Carpenter: By recognizing that someone has to actually do something about the problems facing the organ and organists; which I submit are an actual danger to the future of one of man's most fascinating and refined arts. If the organ is really undergoing as much of a renaissance as we're often told, I don't find the field's average poorly-attended, poorly-paid and poorly-marketed pipe organ recitals and the occasional chord-holding of the Saint-Saens Organ Symphony as compelling evidence.

Most organists are unwilling to reconcile commercialism with quality, with the perverse result that most organ concerts--even after decades of discussion and awareness of this problem--are still programmed according to scholarly rather than performative principles. Academically-grounded classical organ performance is a deeply encoded, self-referential discipline which while fascinating, has almost eliminated major performance opportunities for young organists outside of church and the organ scene. Without the benefit of competing in a larger musical market, it is difficult for young organists to develop really compelling, marketable identities. To do that you can't only play traditional repertoire.

CL: What was the significance of Lightfoot for you? Personal? Inspiration?

As in any repertoire choice I make, the essence is in the work, not in a consideration of the composer as an idea. Something about that song grabbed me, exactly as when whole swathes of Mozart or Medtner can go by without my really noticing, then one particular work will be magic.

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