CHAMBERSBURG >> Sometimes we are attracted to something without knowing why. That was the case for Felix Hell, world-renowned concert organist who will perform April 26 at the re-dedication of the Moller organ in St. John's United Church of Christ, 1811 Lincoln Way East.
"When I was not even seven years of age, my parents took me to an organ concert at a cathedral. I didn't want to go because I associated the organ with funerals, but I had no choice," said Hell. "However, the moment the organ began to play I was enchanted by the sound. It was so colorful and shook the room with its power. After the concert, we were allowed to see the organ. It had five keyboards and numerous foot pedals. I wanted to learn to play it, but I never gave a thought to it becoming a profession."
Now, Hell plays pieces which he calls "some of humanity's greatest achievements."
The first part of the concert will feature three pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach. "These pieces are entirely different, to the point that one would not believe they were from the same composer," he said. The second half, echoing a tribute to Bach, consists of pieces by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, French romanticist Charles-Marie Widor and Franz Liszt. The Liszt piece Hell calls "a thrilling piece of music for the keyboard." It is a fugue based on the name of Bach and uses four notes to create the theme that is manipulated in different moods and harmonies.
Hell takes a very different approach to the music he chooses to play. "I come to the site where the organ is and I spend some 6-10 hours playing it to familiarize myself with it. Every organ is absolutely unique. Only by playing the music first can I decide it if is the right music to play on that instrument."
Because he chooses music to suit the instrument he will play, his musical repertoire must be very large, he said.
"We live in a culture where music is becoming more disposable," said Hell. "But this is not the case with classical music. Even if you hear a piece repeatedly it does not get old and boring. It is just the opposite; the more you hear it the more you understand it."
He compares music to food. "We have all had a wonderful meal and also had snack food. This music, in my opinion, is like some the most exquisite food."
The 4 p.m. concert will be highlighted by the re-dedication of the recently refurbished 1963 M.P. Moller organ. It was installed when the church was built, as a donation from Charles and Hazel Karper.
Born in Germany, but now living in Baltimore, Hell is a world-renowned organist, having played more than 850 concerts in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia. In 2013, in a tour in South Korea, he performed the complete Bach cycle of 250 organ works.
Hell is also noted for his Touring Organ, all 400 pounds, which travels by trailer, allowing him to perform on the instrument even when there is no pipe organ available.
Hell's delight in the music he plays is boundless and he presents it to his audience with an overwhelming enthusiasm. For many, classical music can seem daunting, but to Hell "it is not necessary to know the pieces, it is better to be open to listening. This is beauty, it stimulates thought. When people hear it they will not forget it."
If you go
Felix Hell organ concert
WHEN: 4 p.m. April 26
WHERE: St. John's United Church of Christ, 1811 Lincoln Way East, Chambersbsurg.
RECEPTION: Follows concert, in church fellowship hall
COST: An offering will be taken.
DETAILS: Call 263-8593