Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ, Opus 3875 – one of the finest performance
organs in the country – is the visual centerpiece of Helzberg Hall at the
Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Quebec-based firm Casavant Frères
custom-designed the mechanical organ in the French romantic tradition, with 79
stops, 102 ranks, and 5,548 pipes.
Organ Console 1 - Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ, Opus 3875 (2015-01-21) by Ewing Marion Kauffman FoundationKauffman Center for the Performing Arts
Creating the organ required a collaborative effort between Casavant Frères, one of the world's most respected pipe organ builders, Kauffman Center architect Moshe Safdie, and Helzberg Hall acoustician Yasu Toyota.
Explore Helzberg Hall, where the organ serves as a backdrop to performances by the Kansas City Symphony, as well as concerts by touring and local talent.
Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ, Opus 3875 - 1 (2015-01-21) by Ewing Marion Kauffman FoundationKauffman Center for the Performing Arts
The Kauffman Center presented two sold-out inaugural concerts showcasing the organ on March 10 and 11, 2012, featuring selections by composers from the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern eras.
Creating the Casavant Organ
The 125-year old firm Casavant Frères – based in Quebec, Canada – custom-designed every piece of the Kauffman Center’s organ. At the time of production, it was the largest mechanical action organ Casavant Frères had built in their history as a company.
A scaled model of the organ shows the structure encased in the concert hall. All the pieces fit snuggly in place during the final installation, with about one inch of room on either side.
Technicians at the Casavant Frères workshop poured alloys of tin and lead into various thicknesses to create metal sheets that would be rolled into the organ’s pipes.
After hand-crafting the organ’s more than 5,000 pipes, workers at Casavant Frères “voiced” each pipe, “teaching it how to sing.” Each of the instrument’s 79 stops has 61 pipes, all requiring adjustments during production.
Inside the Organ
The organ is equally capable of performing under the orchestra, soaring above it in organ concertos, accompanying choir or choral groups, and, of course, brilliantly shining in solo organ repertoires. The instrument’s mechanical action gives the performer nuanced control of the speech of each pipe.
Organ Interior 1 - Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ, Opus 3875 (2015-01-21) by Ewing Marion Kauffman FoundationKauffman Center for the Performing Arts
Only about 10 percent of the organ’s 5,548 pipes are visible to concert-goers.
Organ Stops 2 - Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ, Opus 3875 (2015-01-21) by Ewing Marion Kauffman FoundationKauffman Center for the Performing Arts
The organ’s 79 stops and 102 ranks allow for seemingly endless combinations of sound and tone, to fit its many uses as a solo and accompanying instrument.
It took two months of installation and two months of testing to “voice” the organ in Helzberg Hall. Much of the voicing work was done overnight to accommodate the brand-new concert hall’s busy performance schedule.
See the inside of the Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ, Opus 3875 at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts as Jan Kraybill, organ conservator, performs the finale from Symphony No. 1 for Organ by Louis Vierne.
Visual and Architectural Centerpiece
Architect Moshe Safdie and Helzberg Hall acoustician Yasu Toyota worked closely with building planners to ensure the pipe organ fit naturally into the overall design of the hall.
Organ Pipes 5 - Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ, Opus 3875 (2015-01-21) by Ewing Marion Kauffman FoundationKauffman Center for the Performing Arts
The unique façade features fully functional wooden pipes hand-built by Casavant Frères artists, and its design echoes the preponderance of wood in Helzberg Hall. The acoustician’s choice of Alaskan cedar, Douglas fir, and oak were selected for their specific resonant qualities, making the hall, musicians, and organ work together as one perfectly tuned instrument.
After it was produced and tested at the Casavant Frères workshop, the organ was disassembled into almost 20,000 pieces to transport it 1,368 miles from Quebec to Kansas City.
The instrument in used throughout the year in performances with the Kansas City Symphony and for organ music programming. Here, organ conservator Jan Kraybill performs during a free community festival.
Photos of the Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ, Opus 3875 are courtesy of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
YouTube video, “Behind the Scenes of the Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ” was created by the Kansas City Symphony.
Additional photos by Cody Boston.
Learn more about the Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ, Opus 3875 at www.kauffmancenter.org.