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October 06, 2015

Festival celebrates historic instrument

ornate organIt was the project that almost wasn’t: a rare 18th-century Italian Baroque organ sitting in an antique store in Italy about to be sold off for parts. But thanks to an initiative by the Eastman School and a team of international experts, the relic was rescued and restored to provide Rochester with the only instrument of its kind in North America. From October 22 to 25, internationally renowned performers, scholars, and members of the community will participate in a four-day festival to commemorate the 10th installation of that organ at the Memorial Art Gallery.

In addition to a host of free recitals, master classes, and a rare opportunity to hear a recently rediscovered Baroque mass by Italian composer Domenico Zipoli, the University will sponsor a series of concerts and talks on topics that range from 17th-century music to the role of Jesuits in colonial Latin America.

“We see this as an opportunity to show the community how music fits into art, culture, and society,” says Honey Meconi, professor of music and faculty lead for a yearlong series of events centered on the organ’s anniversary. “The organ serves as a great example of how music transcends time and continues to be available to all.”

According to David Higgs, chair of the Eastman School’s Department of Organ, Sacred Music, and Historical Keyboards, “from the beginning the project was like finding a fossil of a dinosaur and reconstructing it. Not only does the organ provide insight into 18th-century music, but it acts as a cultural resource that teaches us about the technology and culture of its time.”

In fact, the reconstruction was the first in the Eastman School’s multiyear plan to assemble a collection of new and historic organs throughout Rochester. To date, 11 organs have been installed as part of the Eastman Organ Rochester Initiative (EROI) in the city, creating a collection that is unparalleled in the United States.

The festival, “Performing History: The Italian Baroque Organ and its Cultural Intersections,” is sponsored by the University’s Humanities Project, the College Department of Music, Eastman School of Music, and the Memorial Art Gallery. For more information, visit

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