In her perch above the audience, Robin Knutson pulled out – almost – all the stops.
At the triple-deck keyboard of the massive pipe organ, Knutson danced her feet over the pedals to deliver the blasting bass notes of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor,” the most famous organ work in the Baroque master’s repertoire. With deft fingers, she quickly worked the stops to give full throat to the organ’s towering silver pipes as she played the repeating melody on three different divisions.
When she finished the piece’s last soaring chords, the crowd stood to applaud – and turned around to see her for the first time. From their pew seats, they only could watch Knutson on a projection screen. But during her performance, the audience had followed along closely, soaking in the nuances of her hands and feet as she made the organ sing.
For the 100-plus listeners and players gathered Sunday at St. John’s Lutheran Church in midtown Sacramento, the familiar fugue, along with several other Bach organ works, became their own variation of “Happy Birthday.”
Billed as “Bachathon,” the Sunday concert brought together organists and music lovers to play Bach, hear Bach and celebrate Bach close to the 330th anniversary of his birth.
But this also was a salute to the allure of organ music, a classical niche that still beats strong.
“It’s kind of addictive once you find out all the different sounds you can make,” said Nancy Metzger, a longtime music teacher and organist who helped organize the event. “It’s a lot of power.”
During the four-hour salute, 14 organists performed dozens of Bach pieces from the composer’s extensive catalog. Bach, who was born March 31, 1685, in Germany, wrote hundreds of organ compositions.
“That’s everybody’s favorite organ piece,” said Knutson, organist for St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lodi, of “Toccata and Fugue.” “This is a wonderful salute – and it’s a big organ. It makes it a lot of fun for me to play.”
Since 2005, the Sacramento chapter of the American Guild of Organists has hosted its Bachathon every other year to raise scholarship money for local music students interested in learning the organ. The national professional association has about 17,000 members, including 55 in the Sacramento area.
“Honestly, I went to a church,” explained organ student Jacob Fiori, a 2014 scholarship recipient from Fairfield, on how he got hooked.
Piano lessons turned to organ lessons with the church’s music director.
“He suggested that organ could be a good career for me,” said Fiori, 18, a music student at Solano Community College. “Ever since, I’ve been obsessed with organ.”
And with this composer.
“Bach is like the father of modern music,” said Fiori, who played Bach’s “Prelude and Fugue in F Major.” “I just love everything about Bach.”
Even after three centuries, Bach still brings people together.
“I like the fact that this event attracts so many non-organists,” said Ryan Enright, organist at St. John’s in midtown, who played three of his favorite pieces. “We have so many (listeners) who just show up and really enjoy the music. ... And the music sounds fantastic. It’s amazing.”
Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.