Saturday, September 21, 2013

"Nordic Journey": Organ Music

James Hicks has been the long-time director of music at The Presbyterian Church in Morristown, NJ (1985-2011). He has performed as a concert organist throughout the United States, Europe, and Australia. In January 2010, he recorded a 2-cd set for the Pro Organo label, Nordic Journey. He performed on the historic organ of Linköping Cathedral, Linköping, Sweden, for this collection of nineteenth through twenty-first century Nordic repertoire. Several of the works are premieres, and the composers are Thomas Åberg, Lars Egebjer, J. P. E. Hartmann, Egil Hovland, Joonas Kokkonen, Taneli Kuusisto, Oskar Lindberg, Jarmo Parviainen, Thorkell Sigurbjornsson, and Fredrik Sixten. Hicks recently returned from Sweden where he performed more Nordic organ music for a continuation of the “Nordic Journey” recordings.

He writes in the CD notes, “Given the technology of our time, the world is certainly becoming smaller, casting an international hue to the creative arts. Nevertheless, there are musicians who still cling, either intentionally or subconsciously, to their roots, to their home. In their individual ways, the composers presented on these discs write music that could only come from those who know the joy of the twenty-four hours of light on Midsummer’s Day, celebrate the feast of St. Lucia, and have experienced the impenetrable darkness of midwinter. Listen to these sounds and you may be able to discern a Nordic identity within this music for yourself. It is in this spirit that I invite you to spend a couple of hours with what might be for you some unfamiliar names.”

Hurray for clinging to one's roots and home! One piece that has touched me in particular was Thomas Åberg’s “In the Garden: Frosty Morning” from 1999. In Hicks’ notes, the composer states that he had received news of a friend’s dire cancer prognosis. It was a frosty morning, and the composer decided to go ahead and write a piece for the eventual funeral. But the friend (not expected to live long) recovered spectacularly after treatment---and Åberg hasn’t yet told him the story of the piece.

Jim Hicks is a long-time friend of mine---best man at our wedding, in fact---and I regret that we haven’t spent more time together over the years and called more often. I think I'll give him a call this week. My chagrin at missing the initial release of Nordic Journey, amid the stress of a move to a new location, has prompted this review, which will hopefully be read (and responded to) by folks at the Christian Century site, Facebook and Twitter.

Here are places where you can purchase this wonderful 2-CD set:

And Jim’s own website:

This site has excerpts:

And this site has an article about the release of the CD. (I met his dad, who was an attorney in their native Fredericksburg, VA.)

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