The Organ in the Global Baroque: Conference and Concert Festival in Honor of the late Jacques van Oortmerssen

The baroque organ was an artifact of global culture produced by international networks of artists, artisans, traders, and adventurers. Organs of the Hanseatic League, built at the nexus of trade routes that reached around the world, incorporated materials from across the oceans: Cornish tin, tropical woods, gold and silver. Even as their distinctive material characteristics contributed to the invisible mechanisms that converted air into sound, these instruments lavishly displayed the wealth accrued through global trade by the communities that owned them. But organs themselves were also instruments of trade: the organs of the Brebos brothers found their way from Flanders to Spain, and those of Arp Schnitger from Hamburg to Brazil. In the cathedrals of the New World, indigenous artisans collaborated on conquistador organs that sounded out the meeting of colonizer and colonized. And if organs built between the 16th and the 18th centuries embodied and participated in global musical and material networks, so too did the ‘baroque organ’ in the 20th century, with the creation—especially in Asia—of landmark instruments built in historically informed styles that fostered new organ cultures.

Jacques van Oortmerssen, photo Hester Doove

Co-sponsored by The Westfield Center for Historical Keyboard Studies and the Cornell University Music Department, this conference is conceived in honor of the late Jacques van Oortmerssen whose cosmopolitan organ class in Amsterdam embodied internationalism. The program features a brilliant roster of organists and scholars from around the world who will offer concerts and talks on topics that stretch from the 17th-century golden age of the organ all the way to the present.

Recitalists include (in order of appearance) Kimberly Marshall (USA), Shinon Nakagawa (Japan), Philipp Christ (Germany), Anne Page (UK), Ilona Kubiaczyk-Adler (USA), Hans Davidsson (Sweden), Matthias Havinga (The Netherlands), Atsuko Takano (Spain), Annie Laver (USA), Wim Winters (Belgium), Edoardo Bellotti (USA), David Higgs (USA), William Porter (USA) and Annette Richards (USA).

Keynote talks will be given by the acclaimed Bach scholar, conductor and organist John Butt (Gardiner Professor of Music at the University of Glasgow), and by the distinguished expert on organs and their music Andrew McCrea (The Royal College of Organists and the Royal College of Music, London).

Papers presented at the conference, by scholars at all stages of their careers, reflect in imaginative ways on the organ in the global baroque, then and now. Topics will range from the East India Company in the 18th century to Bach, the ‘Baroque’ and the organ in Japan in the 19th; from diplomatic exchange between China and the West via keyboard instruments, to the global organ business of von Rudolf von Bekerath; from the claviorganum as product of cross-cultural exchange in early modern Spain, to the organized piano in late 18th-century North America; and much more. Along the way, we will have the chance to think about questions to do with organ building and trade networks, organists and travel, global materials and musical technologies, colonialism, organs and the material exploitation of the natural world, the organ trade in Asia and South America, and the baroque organ in today’s world.

Cornell Baroque Organ, Anabel Taylor Chapel

Cornell’s early 18th-century style baroque organ, built by a consortium of organ-builders and craftspeople at the Gothenburg Organ Art Center and at Parsons Pipe Organ Builders in upstate New York under the artistic direction of Munetaka Yokota – an organ for which Jacques van Oortmerssen was the inspector and a vital musical influence – will be at the center of the festival. Also on the program will be Cornell’s original Neapolitan organ (1748), and a beautiful new late 18th-century German style clavichord by Dietrich Hein.

The organising committee is chaired by Annette Richards. Events will take place at various locations on the Cornell campus and are free for members of the Cornell and Ithaca communities, and for all students. Space is limited, so we do ask you to please register here.

Cornell University, Ithaca NY, in collaboration with the Westfield Center for Historical Keyboard Studies

September 6-8, 2018

For more information, please contact Kiko Nobusawa at