Bell plays ‘top class’ organ at MLC

NEW ULM – London-based organist Tom Bell is used to playing at venues in London, Boston, and Washington, D.C., where on Sunday he played at the National Cathedral.

On Tuesday he was in New Ulm, playing a concert in the Chapel of the Christ on the Martin Luther College Campus.

Bell’s trip to New Ulm was arranged through Michael Barone of Minneapolis, host and senior executive producer of the American Public Media radio program “Pipedreams.”

“He’s quite a well known figure in the organ world,” said Bell. “I came across him last year. He was running a tour of British organs, and I and a colleague showed him around some, and we became friends.”

When Bell began thinking about his second tour in the U.S., he talked to Barone who said, “‘I can suggest a venue near Minneapolis,’ and here I am.”

Bell arrived in New Ulm on Monday, and spent some time practicing and getting to know the Schantz organ in the Chapel of the Christ.

The organ was installed in the new chapel in 2010 by the Schantz Organ Co. in Orville Ohio. Bell said it is a “top class” instrument in a well-designed facility, and an exciting place to play.

Bell said it isn’t always the case in some well-known organ locations. “Certainly in the UK there are places that have regular concert series with really good names going to play, very well established, where actually the organ isn’t very good, or the acoustics in the venue aren’t very good. Just because the location is culturally active doesn’t mean the facilities are top class. But here they are, so this is a very exciting place to come and play.”

American-built organs are starting to grow in reputation in England and Europe, said Bell, and the Chapel of the Christ organ is a very good one.

“There is no dead wood in this organ,” he said.

He enjoys playing organs that have good sound, that allow a lot versatility in the selection of stops. While a lot of the older organ composers were very specific in what ranks and stops should be used for their music, some of the more modern ones leave it to the organist to decide.

Bell played selections including a Bach Prelude and Fugue in E-Flat, but also a selection of more modern pieces, including one by a friend of his, Matthew Sergeant, and some with jazz themes, which allowed him to make use of the organ’s versatility, including the “Sparkle,” the star at the top of the organ that twirls while a bell tinkles.

Bell performs a wide array of established repertoire and is also committed to commissioning and performing new works. He teaches for the Royal College of Organists St. Giles Organ School and regularly tutors on residential courses for the Royal School of Church Music, Oundle for Organists, and the London Organ Improvisation Course.

He is involved with education and outreach projects designed to educate both children and adults about the organ. He is now Organist and Choir Master at St. Michael’s Chester Square in London’s West End.

Bell will lead a masterclass in organ for five organ students before traveling to Portsmouth, N.H., to play in the South Church. He will then head back to London.

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