At the turn of the 20th century, the biggest, most bustling business in our home city of Staunton, Virginia was the W.W. Putnam Organ Works, which claimed to be “the largest exclusive reed organ factory in the world.” At its peak, the firm had 200 employees and a 50,000 square foot factory pumping out more than 6,000 pump organs (also called harmoniums, reed, or parlor organs) a year, as well as an impressive three-story downtown showroom. Today, that showroom is the site of a brewery, the factory is long gone, and this vital piece of Staunton’s musical past has been almost completely forgotten.
It hasn’t quite been a century since live chamber music rang through our concert halls (though at times it has felt that long), but one of these instruments will take center stage again this weekend as our Spring Eternal Concert Series continues. Florence Jowers, Director of Music at Christ Lutheran Church in Staunton, will join the Heifetz Ensemble in Residence (HEIR) on a Putnam harmonium to perform a work composed specifically for such an instrument: The Bagatelles, Op. 47 by Antonín Dvořák. This particular 104 year-old organ was rescued from the long-abandoned Shemariah Presbyterian Church in the small nearby village of Summerdean, VA, and after careful restoration by Staunton-based historical keyboard specialist Louis Dolive, was played for the first time in four decades during a performance of The Bagatelles during our 2018 Festival of Concerts.
Enjoy the sights and sounds of the “mighty Heifetz harmonium” played by faculty pianist Stefan Petrov in in this performance featuring Heifetz 2018 students Alex Fowler, Yuval Shem-Tov, and Huier Yiu. Then hear it in action this Sunday March 14 at our Spring Eternal Concert: Bohemians in America: Dvorák & Martinu” (2pm at the Great Hall at The Blackburn Inn), as Staunton’s storied musical past and vital present unite once again. Tickets available to attend in person, or register watch the livestream online.