ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Playing piano was a good start for Jennifer Pascual. But it was the organ that captured her attention at a young age.
“I sang in choir at elementary school and I was fascinated by the organ, that the organist was playing more than one keyboard and with the feet,” Pascual said in a phone interview. “In high school I got to try it out and I was hooked.”
Pascual has become one of the world’s premier organists. Since 2003, she has been the music director and organist at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, one of the most prestigious sacred music positions in the country. Pascual is the first woman to hold that post.
On Jan. 25, she will give a recital at the University of New Mexico’s Keller Hall. The concert is sponsored by the Albuquerque chapter of the American Guild of Organists.
Pascual opens the concert with part of a work by the American composer Richard Purvis – the “Thanksgiving” movement of “Four Prayers in Tone.”
“The movement is happy and joyous,” Pascual said.
Purvis was the longtime organist at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral. Pascual acknowledged that organists play a lot of music by French composers and J.S. Bach. So she especially likes the Purvis because he was an American.
“I like to learn pieces of music by composers from our own country,” Pascual said.
Also on the program are Bach’s flashy “Piece d’Orgue” and the Processional March in A Major by 19th century French composer Alexandre Guilmant.
The Guilmant is a piece that Pascual uses for postludes in St. Patrick’s Cathedral’s church services.
“It can even be used as a wedding march. It has a majestic grandeur,” she said.
Another work on the program is “Remembrance” by Pietro Yon, who was music director at St. Patrick’s in the early part of the 20th century.
“Remembrance,” Pascual said, is a cute secular piece with contemporary harmonies.
The longest work she’ll play is Felix Mendelssohn’s Sonata No. 1 in F minor. The first movement begins loud then there’s a kind of dialogue in volume that shifts back and forth from soft to loud.
The second movement is quiet, while the third starts with a quiet solo line then makes a bombastic statement. The fourth movement has fast-moving passages for the organist’s handsand feet.
“It’s a nonstop movement and it’s in F major. It has a happy ending,” Pascual said.
Her concert closes with the Finale from Charles-Marie Widor’s Symphony No. 6.
“It’s fast and loud. It requires a lot of good finger technique – acrobatics for the fingers,” she explained.
Pascual had been on the artistic staff of the Boys Choir of Harlem for 10 years before going to St. Patrick’s. She is a recipient of the Paderewski Medal and the Theodore Presser Award.
Pascual is the organist on the World Library Publication’s eight-CD set “Psalms and Ritual Music.”