Teen organist prepares for second pipe organ festival performance

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Henry Webb is officially a freshman in college, but he will be making a return trip to Kilgore for the East Texas Pipe Organ Festival Monday.

This year, the 19-year-old Dallas native will perform his concert at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church on the Aeolian-Skinner, Opus 1175 instead of at First Presbyterian’s Opus 1173 organ.

Installed by the late Jimmy and Nora Williams, the organs do have their similarities, but they are still very different instruments, Webb said.

“Last year I had played music that worked well on the organ; some of it was a bit tricky, but it worked well. Lots of the music that I’m choosing, it’s not possible to do it exactly how it was meant to be heard because the pipes are completely different… It’s not a compromise, but it’s more of I’m going to play it in a way that would not be the authentic way to play it,” Webb said about his concert selections this year. Instead of focusing on the authenticity of the original sound, he is instead showing off the organ and what it can do.

One piece was written originally by Antonio Vivaldi as a string piece, but Johann Sebastian Bach transcribed it for the organ. Another piece, he said, will require 56 different buttons.

“I’ll be using up about all of the organ’s capacity… I am excited because I can bring different music,” he said.

Since last year’s concert, Webb has started the organ study program at the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music.

“The organs there are completely different than the organs here, so I hope they won’t be too much of a shock to transition to these organs.”

Even though he has moved on to college and has relocated to New York for it, festival organizer and First Presbyterian Church choirmaster Lorenz Maycher said, Webb is still “totally 100 percent organ.”

Last year, Maycher said, many people left his concert praising his performance and noting the artist he will mature into as he continues to play.

“I thought, ‘He’s already better than most of the mature artists we’ve already had,’” Maycher said. “He’s just born to play the organ, and you can’t really teach somebody to play like he does. He has the innate ear, the musicality, the sense of form.”

Not only does he bring the skill level, Maycher said, but Webb also adds to each piece he plays.

“He respects the composers; he doesn’t do anything out of line, but he brings something from himself to everything that he plays that a lot of people don’t,” Maycher said. “He doesn’t just play like he’s been told to play. He’s just got this great intuitiveness that you encounter very rarely.”

The East Texas Pipe Organ Festival officially opens Sunday at 5 p.m. with a concert in First Presbyterian Church by Raúl Prieto Ramírez. Webb's performance, which is free to the public, is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 6 at 10 a.m. in St. Luke’s United Methodist Church.

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