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ABQ church marks organ’s 60th anniversary

Organist Peter Richard Conte.

Organist Peter Richard Conte.

First Presbyterian Church will crown the 60th anniversary of its famous organ with the man who helms the largest fully functioning instrument in the world.

Peter Richard Conte, celebrating his 25th year as the Wanamaker Grand Court organist, will perform in the Albuquerque church on Saturday, April 23.

Conte will play music by Marcel Dupré, Strauss, Sibelius and Bernstein in a mix of classic organ pieces and orchestral transcriptions. Dupré wrote his Passion Symphony in 1921.

“He improvised at the organ I play,” Conte said in a telephone interview from Philadelphia. “It became one of his most famous and beloved works.”

First played in 1911, the Grand Court Organ sits in what is now the Philadelphia City Center Macy’s. The instrument resounds with more than 28,500 pipes.

Conte first fell in love with the organ during a cross-country drive with his family when he was just “6 or 7” years old. A stop in Utah changed his life

“The only thing I remember about that trip is going into the Mormon Tabernacle and seeing that organ,” he said. “I told my Dad, ‘I’m going to play that.’

“I did, years later. I was almost in tears playing there.”

In Albuquerque, Conte will play a transcription of “Finlandia” by Sibelius and the “Moonlight” scene from Strauss’ opera “Capriccio.” He will play his own transcription from the overture to Bernstein’s “Candide.”

“The transcriptions are the fun part,” he said. “They were shunned for a long time. Fads come and go. Organists thought that to be beneath the organ world.”

Today, musicians are much more accepting of transcriptions of orchestral works, Conte said.

National Public Radio, “Good Morning America” and “World News Tonight” have all featured stories about Conte and the great organ he plays.

“It’s the variety of resonances; especially these larger symphonic organs,” he explained. “They can imitate an orchestra. And there’s the feeling of power when you can play a C major chord and rock the building.”