English composer and organist Sam Baker weaves a spell-binding concert of the celebrated pipe organ at St. Andrew’s Church

Not many people can connect magic with church music. But for fingersmith Sam Baker, blending the two arts is child’s play. The pianist, organist, choral conductor and music tutor recently rendered an enchanting piano and organ recital at the historic St. Andrew’s Church in the city and brought some magical moments home during the recital.

Presented by St. Andrew’s Church and The International Music & Arts Society, the concert by Sam, also a senior organ scholar at the Oxford University, was titled ‘Festive Flourishes’. What made this all the more ethereal was that while The International Music & Arts Society was commemorating its 40th anniversary this year, St. Andrews was celebrating its 150th anniversary on the occasion.

Performing on the over 130-year-old pipe organ at the church was a moment of great pride for Sam. “I’ve always wanted to perform on such occasions. To play such a well-maintained pipe organ as part of a historic moment is a real honour for me. I’m proud to be part of the church and its legacy.” Playing since he was nine-years-old, Sam started with the piano and later moved to his favourite instrument – the organ.

The 23-year-old music phenomenon, hailing from Oxfordshire, was a senior organ scholar at the Oxford University’s Pembroke College in reading music. The prodigious musician is also instrumental in conducting various choral concerts and touring Europe sharing and teaching from his wealth of knowledge in music. Sam has also recorded three albums with his own compositions as well as works by music legends. The maestro loves exploring new techniques while digging deeper into the archives of traditional music for timeless musical encounters.

For anyone who aspires to become an organist, he shares that there is a lot of work that needs to be put into the instrument. He recommends starting with the piano. “There is a lot more co-ordination required for the organ. But all I would say is just go ahead and give it your best shot.” Looking ahead, Sam hopes to teach and share his knowledge in the arts world as well as come back to Bangalore again to perform in Western Classical spaces.

The recital, unlike other performances, was part of the evening service led by Presbyter Rev. Sanjay Samuel Ayer and had Sam and the choir lead the congregation into the opening hymn ‘Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation’. After other formalities, Sam finally took the spotlight at the historic pipe organ and kicked off his programme with the ‘Prince of Denmark’s March’ by English Baroque organist Jeremiah Clarke. True to its legacy, the reeds of the pipe organ ebbed magical nuances with each note. Sam went on to play the prelude to ‘Te Deum’ by Frenchman Marc-Antoine Charpentier followed by the famous ‘Air’ and ‘Allegro’ sections from The Water Music by the legendary George Frideric Handel in illuminating organ grandeur.

Switching over to the piano for the mid-section of the concert, Sam rendered excerpts from the Two Part inventions of German maestro Johann Sebastian Bach and the Arabesque No. 1 & 2 by master French impressionist Claude Debussy. Proving that he was as skilled on the keys as he is on the reeds, Sam went on to perform breathtaking ‘Rosemary’ by English violist Frank Bridge. The breezy ‘Waltz in A Flat’ from Op. 69 and the ‘Raindrop Prelude’ (Prelude Op. 28, No. 15), both by Frédéric Chopin sailed through next. The famous ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On my Head’ by American songwriter Burt Bacharach had the audience singing along to the illustrious refrain.

After a short break in which a brief documentary on the St. Andrew’s Church sesquicentenary celebrations was shown, Sam took centre stage at the organ again to render Bach’s ‘Fantasia in G’ followed by the rapturous ‘Wedding March’ from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. Edward Elgar’s variations on the original ‘Enigma’ theme Op. 36 trailed along after which William Walton’s spectacular ‘Crown Imperial’ paved way to the finishing composition – ‘The Dambuster’s March’ by Eric Coates – all tributes to the Englishman’s home.

Tagging along with the closing prayer and benediction was the venturous grand finale with the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ from Handel’s Messiah that ended with a festive flourish.

ALLAN MOSES RODRICKS

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