William Kurach ’18
This past Thursday, members of the Trinity community flocked to the college chapel to attend a concert featuring renowned organist Christopher Houlihan ’09.
Given Houlihans repertoire, it was not at all surprisingly that the chapel was filled to a point where it was hard to find a seat to watch the concert. Audience members sat in a kind of buttoned-up anticipation, awaiting who has amounted, in his young career, to somewhat of a rock star in the world of organ music.
Houlihan developed a love for the organ early in life, playing from the age of twelve. He graduated from Trinity College in 2009 and later went on to attend the prestigious Julliard School in New York. While at Trinity, he made his orchestral debut with the Hartford Symphony. He has won several international prizes, and has also amongst others, played before then-U.S. president, George W. Bush. His Vierne 2012 tour, in which he played the complete organ works of French composer Louis Vierne in six U.S. cities, was met with much critical acclaim.
His performance at Trinity marked a homecoming of sorts. The recital served to celebrate the inauguration of President Joanne Berger-Sweeney, who appeared just as excited as the rest of the crowd awaiting the recital to begin. It was also fascinating to see Hartford residents and members of the Trinity community come together under a roof to watch the performance. One member in the audience even mentioned that he hadn’t visited the chapel in twenty years, but was drawn back by the magnetic attraction Houlihan seems to exhibit.
When Houlihan emerged, he shot out of the gate with a Toccata by 20th century American composer Leo Sowerby. The sound glowed through the expanse of the chapel, as the intricacy and muscularity of the piece danced in counterpoint, and the audience followed with rapt attention.
He followed the Sowerby with a graceful organ rendition of a vocal piece by Maurice Ravel and a Bach concerto. The Ravel piece stirred about in a really lovely processional fashion.
Houlihan imbued the Bach with real clarity and color. He noted to the audience how much he liked to play it on the organ, and the love that drives his deeply affecting work was readily apparent. He then played what he regarded as “one of the most beautiful pieces ever written for organ,” a sublimely dreamy movement from Charles-Marie Widor’s “Symphonie Gothique.” Houlihan described the audience’s graceful crescendo into applause following the Widor as one of the most rewarding moments for an organist.
He finished with something truly special. He recounted to the audience the events of a day in which President Berger-Sweeney wandered into the chapel while he was playing and noted to him that her favorite organ piece was Bach’s “Passacaglia & Fugue” in C minor. Houlihan had treated her with an impromptu version then, and now, in recital, he presented to her a more polished musical gift. His imbued “Passacaglia” with a vibrancy that proved transfixing, bringing the evening to a satisfying and dramatic close, the audience on its feet, calling him back to the organ to bow several times.
This event marked not only a musical event of importance, but also a moment of great promise and hope for the Trinity community.
Welcoming our new president in the chapel, in the presence of students, parents, and faculty past and present, there hung a sense of sanctity as palpable and graceful as the music that filled the space. In the midst of the ceremonies of Inauguration weekend, Houlihan’s recital served, in some part, as an invocation of art, and of beauty into the new chapter in Trinity’s history. one that we as a community will hope to cultivate for some time to come.