Martin Ellis and Donna Parker Debut Wurlitzer with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra at the annual Yuletide Celebration Concerts
"A vintage theatre pipe organ is giving the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra some new sounds," heralded the Indianapolis Star newspaper.
"The addition of the organ increases the symphony's repertoire," said Simon Crookall, President and CEO of the ISO.
Those were just a few of the comments about the Yuletide Celebration concerts--27 in all, which saw the debut of the newly installed 3m/24r Wuritzer theatre pipe organ by house organist, Martin Ellis, and colleague, Donna Parker.
Opening the second half of the concert, the house lights dimmed as the Wurlitzer and organist were introduced to the audience while the symphony played the beginning strains of the well-loved holiday hit Silver Bells. With the organ console center stage surrounded by the symphony, the curtain rose, the organist quickly took their place on the bench, and both organ and orchestra joined together for Joy to the World, played in classic toccata fashion, before taking the instrument in a completely different direction with a rhythmic, energetic Brazilian Sleigh Bells. The organ arrangement was written by Martin Ellis, with the orchestral arrangement by conductor, Jack Everly, carefully fitted around it. The result was an awesome musical coupling not heard since the days of Buddy Cole, and back to the 1930s before that. Christmastime Is Here, from the Peanuts/Charlie Brown TV specials, was next and featured the beautiful Tibias, String ensembles, and solo Trumpets and Tubas from the organ, backed by harp glissandos, French horns, strings and English horns from the orchestra. It was musically breathtaking. A Christmas Carol from the musical "Scrooge" ended the medley, complete with the Yuletide Celebration cast singing.
The Wurlitzer was originally installed in the Warner Theatre in Youngstown, Ohio in 1931. Carlton Smith, of Carlton Smith Pipe Organ Restoration, completely rebuilt and restored the organ. The project took five years, and 11 ranks were added to handle the demand for a wide variety of repertoire--from classics to pops--to be performed with the symphony.
The Yuletide Celebration concert series is the second largest Christmas concert series in the United States--second only in ticket sales to the Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall with the Rockettes.
Since 1986, this ISO seasonal extravaganza has become part of an annual holiday tradition for many. Now it includes a Wurlitzer theatre pipe organ in the vast array of sights and sounds . . . a real celebration, indeed.