By Eric Barton
City & Shore Magazine
Alexander W. Dreyfoos had a vision, back when the Kravis Center first opened in 1992. He wanted it to have a world-class organ, something that would headline orchestra performances.
“I thought a proper performing arts hall ought to have an organ, and it ought to be something special,” Dreyfoos recalls.
As one of the main donors to the West Palm Beach performing arts hall, Dreyfoos felt a special kinship with the place. So he came to realize that getting the doors open might be more important than making sure it had an organ. “It’s hard enough to raise that kind of money, so I just had to concede that we could raise the money later for an organ.”
Between then and now, something pretty huge happened in classical music. Massachusetts-based Marshall & Ogletree began developing a digital organ, a machine that would mimic the sound of an instrument amplified by metal or wood pipes. For Dreyfoos, this new digital organ had a personal appeal. An inventor, Dreyfoos first got interested in digitizing music back at MIT, and continued working on it at IBM. So he wrote a $1.5 million check to buy one for the Kravis Center.
And on March 9, organ prodigy-turned-virtuoso Cameron Carpenter will come to West Palm Beach to play the first digital organ ever installed in a performing arts hall. Accompanied by the Jacksonville Symphony, the performance very well could usher in a new era for classical music, where digital organs replace the often clunky, imprecise instruments of yesterday.
Not all of the traditionalists appreciate the Kravis Center’s organ, which is named Opus 11. Some classical musicians and fans say it breaks tradition in an art form that generally shuns such digital advancements.
Carpenter says Opus 11 represents a decade of work by the organ maker, which collected digital recordings from 35 instruments across the globe. The recordings were then fused together to create the digital organ.
“The controversy is over,” Carpenter says from New York, at the start of a four-month tour. “The controversy is not even worth the Facebook walls it is written on.”
Carpenter says his West Palm performance will be remembered as the moment when performing arts halls begin to value digital organs over all others. “This is an incredibly important step,” Carpenter says. “This is the first time that definitive action has been taken toward a globally recognized standard in the organ.”
For Dreyfoos, the new machine fulfils his dream of having a world-class organ at the Kravis Center. “It’s a magnificent instrument,” Dreyfoos says. “I’m looking forward to the traditional organists hearing it. I think they’re going to be extremely surprised.”