Exciting debut of San Diego’s new Civic Organist!

Raúl Prieto Ramírez, San Diego's new Civic Organist, raises his arms in greeting.
Raúl Prieto Ramírez, San Diego’s new Civic Organist, raises his arms in greeting.

I’m still in a state of elation after experiencing the exciting debut this afternoon of San Diego’s new Civic Organist!

The first appearance of Raúl Prieto Ramírez as official organist for the city of San Diego was nothing less than phenomenal. He performed in Balboa Park’s Spreckels Organ Pavilion, where the public will now enjoy his free performances every Sunday at two o’clock.

His great love of music, his energy, his vivaciousness and his extraordinary skill were apparent from the start. An enormous audience filled the Spreckels Organ Pavilion and welcomed him warmly. At the conclusion of the exciting concert, he received a well-deserved standing ovation.

San Diego is so fortunate. The shoes of previous Civic Organist, Dr. Carol Williams, would be difficult for anyone to fill, but Raúl Prieto Ramírez seems definitely up to the task. His playing is crisp, nimble, precise, and full of expression. His smile is enormous. His mission in life, he told the audience, was to bring to the world great music. That makes him happy.

Raúl Prieto Ramírez comes to San Diego from Barcelona, Spain. He is internationally acclaimed, the founder of the Barcelona-Mataró International Organ Festival. Now he will perform his magic in Balboa Park as Civic Organist and Artistic Director of the Spreckels Organ Society. I can tell you right now the future of the 103-year-old Spreckels Organ is incredibly bright.

My photos of today’s concert captures a true artist’s unbounded passion. That passion translates into musical gold.

Jack Lasher, President of the Spreckels Organ Society, welcomes new San Diego Civic Organist Raúl Prieto Ramírez to the world's largest outdoor organ in Balboa Park.
Jack Lasher, President of the Spreckels Organ Society, welcomes new San Diego Civic Organist Raúl Prieto Ramírez to the world’s largest outdoor organ in Balboa Park.
A sparkling debut concert is about to begin.
A sparkling debut concert is about to begin.
A tradition for the Sunday organ concerts in Balboa Park, Raúl Prieto Ramírez plays America to get things started.
A tradition for the Sunday organ concerts in Balboa Park, Raúl Prieto Ramírez plays America to get things started.
The San Diego audience loved our new Civic Organist from the word go.
The San Diego audience loved our new Civic Organist from the word go.
Raúl Prieto Ramírez talks about coming to San Diego, before his brilliant performance of Johann Sebastian Bach's famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor.
Raúl Prieto Ramírez talks about coming to San Diego, before his brilliant performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor.
Playing the Spreckels Organ with style and passion.
Playing the Spreckels Organ with style and passion.
There were many smiles throughout the large audience at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion. Every bench was full.
There were many smiles throughout the large audience at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion. Every bench was full.
Finishing a difficult Classical piece with a triumphant flourish.
Finishing a difficult Classical piece with a triumphant flourish.
With theatrical flair, Raúl Prieto Ramírez talks about the next piece, Danse Macabre.
With theatrical flair, Raúl Prieto Ramírez talks about the next piece, Danse Macabre.
Concentration.
Concentration.
Feeling.
Feeling.
Intensity.
Intensity.
More smiles.
More smiles.
After a great organ rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, Spreckels Organ Society's Executive Director Ross Porter announces kids are needed for the next number.
After a great organ rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, Spreckels Organ Society’s Executive Director Ross Porter announces kids are needed for the next number.
Kids from the audience take the stage right next to the Spreckels Organ console.
Kids from the audience take the stage right next to the Spreckels Organ console.
Here comes a fifth kid.
Here comes a fifth kid.
Instructions are secretly given.
Instructions are secretly given.
While Raúl Prieto Ramírez plays Batalla Famosa, the kids read a short sentence that introduces each part of the music.
While Raúl Prieto Ramírez plays Batalla Famosa, the kids read a short dramatic sentence that introduces each part of the music.
Too much fun!
Too much fun!
Meet the new San Diego Civic Organist, Raúl Prieto Ramírez!
Meet the new San Diego Civic Organist, Raúl Prieto Ramírez!

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San Diego says goodbye to popular Civic Organist.

Dr. Carol Williams, San Diego Civic Organist for 15 years, in the middle of her final Sunday afternoon performance at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park.
Dr. Carol Williams, San Diego Civic Organist for 15 years, in the middle of her final Sunday afternoon performance at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park.

Thank you Dr. Carol Williams.

Thank you for 15 years of inspiration, dedication, and–most of all–unparalleled music. Thank you for making the Spreckels Organ come so alive. Thank you for your quirky good humor and your wonderful showmanship. Thank you for being such a great part of San Diego’s history, for being one of a long string of distinguished musicians, Civic Organists who first made the Spreckels Organ’s powerful lungs sing in 1915. Thank you for helping culture in Balboa Park to thrive. Thank you for bringing in some of the finest organists in the world for our  absolutely incredible Summer Organ Festivals. Thanks for being a part of many Sunday afternoons, at two o’clock, when I could simply close my eyes and feel the music move through me. Just music. Each living note. Thank you!

In the years ahead, may you produce many fantastic compositions for the king of instruments!

A large crowd turned out to enjoy the music produced by Carol and the Spreckels Organ one last Sunday.
A large crowd turned out to enjoy the music produced by Carol and the Spreckels Organ one last Sunday afternoon.
Dr. Carol Williams wows the crowd with another amazing performance. She is one of the world's finest concert organists. And her dog Dietrich up on stage seems quite proud!
Dr. Carol Williams wows the crowd with another amazing performance. She is one of the world’s finest concert organists. And her dog Dietrich up on stage seems quite proud!
A special day in Balboa Park as San Diego's first woman Civic Organist plays the king of instruments one last Sunday.
A special day in Balboa Park as our nation’s first woman Civic Organist plays the king of instruments one last Sunday.
The Spreckels Organ Pavilion was filled with people who have enjoyed Carol's concerts for many years.
The Spreckels Organ Pavilion was filled with people who have enjoyed Carol’s concerts for many years.
Carol and pal Dietrich between pieces. KUSI videotaped the historic occasion.
Carol and pal Dietrich between pieces. KUSI television videotaped the historic occasion.
Dr. Carol Williams, a premiere concert organist, plays the Spreckels Organ, the largest outdoor pipe organ in the world.
Dr. Carol Williams, a premiere concert organist, plays the Spreckels Organ, the largest outdoor pipe organ in the world.
An artist at work.
An artist at work.
The beginning of a standing ovation, just as Carol asks everyone to stand for the National Anthem.
The beginning of a standing ovation, just as Carol asks everyone to stand for the National Anthem.
Dr. Carol Williams greets organ lovers in the gift shop after her final Sunday concert in Balboa Park. She has long been a San Diego treasure, and now becomes a part of our city's history.
Dr. Carol Williams greets organ lovers in the gift shop after her final Sunday concert in Balboa Park. She has long been a San Diego treasure, and now becomes a part of our city’s history.
An organ student thanks Dr. Carol Williams. She worked hard to educate youth, to encourage aspiring musicians, and to build the Spreckels Organ Society into a powerful presence in the music world.
An organ student thanks Dr. Carol Williams. She worked hard to educate youth, to encourage aspiring musicians, and to build the Spreckels Organ Society into a powerful presence in the music world.

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Come enjoy the 2016 International Summer Organ Festival!

The 2016 International Summer Organ Festival in Balboa Park's Spreckels Organ Pavilion will feature some of the world's great organists! If you've never been to this event, time to go check it out!
The 2016 International Summer Organ Festival in Balboa Park’s Spreckels Organ Pavilion will feature some of the world’s great organists! If you’ve never been to these concerts, time to go check it out!

It starts tomorrow evening! It’s time again for that annual world-famous cultural event in Balboa Park: the International Summer Organ Festival! I promised to say something about these amazing weekly concerts on my blog, so I better do it today before it’s too late!

Anyone who has attended the International Summer Organ Festival in past years knows that many of the world’s greatest concert organists perform during the 10 week blockbuster event. The free concerts are held on Monday evenings in Balboa Park’s Spreckels Organ Pavilion. Concerts begin at 7:30 and last about 2 hours, with a brief intermission to eat, drink, talk, visit the gift shop and stretch legs. Thousands of music buffs and ordinary folk (like myself) come out to listen to the Spreckels Organ’s awesome and versatile voice.

As many of you might know, the Spreckels Organ recently regained the title of World’s Largest Outdoor Organ. And when an organist “pulls out all the stops”, you can hear this King of Instruments clear across Balboa Park!

One more thing–I learned that gourmet sandwiches will be available at the concession area this year–they’re large enough to feed two. So why not make an evening of it? Perhaps walk around beautifully lit Balboa Park before the evening concert or afterward!

Oh–and I should mention that on the Fourth of July, a special concert will feature a spectacular tribute to musical Americana, including favorite rags, marches, Gershwin and more. All played by Dave Wickerham, who is a top-notch theatre organist. (I’ve heard him before, and the way he plays is just unbelievable.)

Click the photo above that contains information about the performances. The image will enlarge and you can mark your calendars. If you’re not in San Diego, I believe the concerts will be streamed on the internet. To learn more about that possibility, and more about the Spreckels Organ Society and their concerts and educational programs, click here!

Ross Porter, Executive Administrator of the Spreckels Organ Society, shows us the newly printed program which visitors will receive at every free summer Monday night performance.
Ross Porter, Executive Administrator of the Spreckels Organ Society, shows us the newly printed program which visitors will receive at every free summer Monday night performance.
I needed some photos for today's blog post, so I captured a smile in the outdoor gift shop. I missed this afternoon's free Sunday concert because I was on a secret mission.
I needed some photos for today’s blog post, so I captured a smile in the outdoor gift shop. I missed this afternoon’s free Sunday concert because I was on a secret mission and had to go elsewhere.
About an hour to go before the free Sunday afternoon concert at 2 o'clock. The Spreckels Organ Pavilion is home to the world's largest outdoor organ and brilliant Civic Organist, Dr. Carol Williams!
About an hour to go before the free Sunday afternoon concert at 2 o’clock. Volunteers and curious folk are Just hanging out. The Spreckels Organ Pavilion is home to the world’s largest outdoor organ and brilliant Civic Organist, Dr. Carol Williams!

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

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Spreckels Organ retakes world record! Concert celebrates!

The historic 1915 Spreckels Organ in Balboa Park has regained the title of largest outdoor pipe organ in the world!
The historic 1915 Spreckels Organ in Balboa Park has regained the title of largest outdoor pipe organ in the world!

There’s a special concert going on right now in San Diego, celebrating the breaking of a world record. The Spreckels Organ in Balboa Park, after a drive to 5000 pipes, has regained the title of largest outdoor pipe organ in the world! (For several years, the Heroes’ Organ at Kufstein Fortress in Austria held the record.)

Here are some photos from about an hour before the celebration concert. Congrats to the Spreckels Organ Society for their fine achievement!

Before the celebration concert, a photographer gets ready and organ enthusiasts have a special dinner in the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.
Before the celebration concert, a photographer gets ready and organ enthusiasts have a special dinner in the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.
A special program! Taking the Title: The Celebration Concert for the World's Largest Outdoor Pipe Organ. Sponsored by Point Loma Nazarene University.
A special program! Taking the Title: The Celebration Concert for the World’s Largest Outdoor Pipe Organ. Sponsored by Point Loma Nazarene University.
Friendly Spreckels Organ Society volunteer confirms that Balboa Park's amazing outdoor organ has regained the world record with 5000 pipes!
Friendly Spreckels Organ Society volunteer confirms that Balboa Park’s amazing outdoor organ has regained the world record with 5017 pipes!
Spreckels Organ Society tent welcomes new members at the very special event.
Spreckels Organ Society tent welcomes new members at the very special event.
Getting the famous Spreckels Organ ready. San Diego Civic Organist Dr. Carol Williams looks on.
Getting the famous Spreckels Organ ready. San Diego Civic Organist Dr. Carol Williams looks on.
A crowd gathers. About an hour to go before the evening concert.
A crowd slowly gathers. About an hour to go before the evening concert!
The House of Scotland Pipe Band will take part in a grand procession into the Spreckels Organ Pavilion as the concert begins. They wear the official San Diego tartan!
The House of Scotland Pipe Band will take part in a grand procession into the Spreckels Organ Pavilion as the evening concert begins. They wear the official San Diego tartan!
I paused to listen for a few minutes as concert organist Dr. Carol Williams and singer Diane Alexander, a soprano, practiced. It was beautiful music. Congratulations to the world-record Spreckels Organ!
I paused to listen for a few minutes as concert organist Dr. Carol Williams and singer Diane Alexander, a soprano, practiced. It was beautiful music. Congratulations to the world-record Spreckels Organ!

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Magic at Centennial International Summer Organ Festival.

People gather on a July evening to listen to the amazing Spreckels Organ in Balboa Park.
People gather on a July evening to listen to the amazing, magical Spreckels Organ in Balboa Park.

Tonight I walked through Balboa Park. I lingered for a bit at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion to enjoy the beginning of a special concert. This year, in honor of Balboa Park’s centennial, the annual International Summer Organ Festival is featuring an incredible lineup of the world’s finest organists. Concerts are held Monday evenings through the end of August.

The concert tonight was performed by Aaron David Miller. Here are some pics of the magic…

Tonight at 7:30, composer and concert organist Aaron David Miller performed at the Centennial International Summer Organ Festival.
Tonight at 7:30, composer and concert organist Aaron David Miller performed at the Centennial International Summer Organ Festival.
These Spreckels Organ Society volunteers smiled for my camera at one entrance to the free public concert.
These Spreckels Organ Society volunteers smiled for my camera at one entrance to the free public concert.
San Diegans filter into the Spreckels Organ Pavilion as evening progresses and daylight fades.
San Diegans filter into the Spreckels Organ Pavilion as evening progresses and daylight fades.
Treats and beverages were served near one entrance.
Treats and beverages were served near one entrance.
Preparing for the concert on the shadowed stage The sun's horizontal rays strike one end of the beautiful colonnade.
Preparing for the concert on the shadowed stage The sun’s horizontal rays strike one end of the beautiful colonnade.
The metal benches are filling up and lights turn on as night descends and the time for music nears.
The metal benches are filling up and lights turn on as night descends and the time for music nears.
At night, many small lights turn the Spreckels Organ Pavilion into a magical place.
At night, many small lights turn the Spreckels Organ Pavilion into a truly magical place.
Pan plays his pipes. Soon a world-class organist will join him.
Pan plays his pipes. Soon a world-class organist will join him.
Aaron David Miller begins with Festival Overture, by Felix Mendelssohn.
Aaron David Miller begins with Festival Overture, by Felix Mendelssohn.

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Behind the scenes look at the Spreckels Organ.

The facade pipes of the Spreckels Organ have been removed to be refurbished.
The facade pipes of the Spreckels Organ have been removed to be refurbished.

Those who attended last Sunday’s free concert at Balboa Park’s Spreckels Organ Pavilion enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

According to Dale Sorenson, Co-Curator of the Spreckels Organ, this is the first time he’s seen San Diego’s historic outdoor organ without the facade pipes. These big pipes, which interfere with the sound from the organ’s many other interior pipes and instruments, have been removed temporarily. They are in the process of being gilded–not with gold leaf, which is very expensive and a long tedious process, but with mica. The renovation is in preparation for the Balboa Park Centennial celebration. A very special concert will be presented this New Year’s Eve, on the organ’s one hundredth birthday!

Without the facade pipes, last weekend’s concert was heard at full power! Among the majestic pieces played by San Diego Civic Organist Dr. Carol Williams were Toccata, Symphonie V by Charles-Marie Widor, Prelude in B minor, BWV 544 by J. S. Bach, and Te Deum by Charles Tournemire.

Here are some behind the scenes photos of the organ, from outside and from within!

The facade's temporary removal allows a very rare look at the interior pipes.
The facade’s temporary removal allows a very rare look at the interior pipes.
Mechanical instruments now visible include cymbals, gong and snare drum.
Mechanical instruments now visible include cymbals, gong and snare drum.
Civic Organist Dr. Carol Williams before once-in-a-lifetime concert with booming sound!
Civic Organist Dr. Carol Williams before once-in-a-lifetime concert with booming sound!
People line up near gift shop to see and hear organ up close during the concert!
People line up near gift shop to see and hear organ up close during the concert!
Entering the organ pavilion building where offices, displays and the instrument reside.
Entering the organ pavilion building where offices, displays and the instrument reside.
A hallway contains dozens of historical photos of concerts, organists and Balboa Park.
A hallway contains dozens of historical photos of concerts, organists and Balboa Park.
Visitors can often go inside after the free 2 o'clock Sunday concerts.
Visitors can often go inside after the free 2 o’clock Sunday concerts.
Heading up west stairs to see and hear the pipes and complex organ workings.
Heading up west stairs to see and hear the pipes and complex organ workings.
Looking behind where facade pipes are usually located.
Looking behind where the facade pipes are usually located.
Looking up we see swell shutters and a big bass drum!
Looking up we see swell shutters and a big bass drum!
Turning to the right we find even more ranks of pipes.
Turning to the right we find even more ranks of pipes.
Cluster of long pipes seen from east side of organ.
Cluster of long and short pipes seen from east side of organ.
Banners and displays in stairwell on east side of building.
Banners and informative exhibits in stairwell on east side of building.
Visitor checks out display inside organ pavilion building.
Visitor checks out display inside organ pavilion building.
Opera star sings at crowded pavilion memorial for President Harding in 1923.
Opera star sings at crowded pavilion during memorial service for President Harding in 1923.
Mice near pipes comment that all hell breaks loose on Sunday!
Mice near pipes comment that all hell breaks loose on Sunday!
Albert Einstein in front of Spreckels Organ in 1930.
Albert Einstein in front of Spreckels Organ in 1930.
1915 photo of Spreckels on Electriquette wicker cart among pigeons in Balboa Park.
1915 photo of John D. Spreckels on Electriquette wicker cart among pigeons in Balboa Park.
Demonstration of how air pressure mechanically affects the pipe organ's action.
Demonstration of how air pressure affects the pipe organ’s action.
2005 bust of John D. Spreckels by sculptor Claudio D’Agostino.
2005 bust of John D. Spreckels by sculptor Claudio D’Agostino.
1915 San Diego Union newspaper announces America's First Out-Of-Door Organ.
1915 San Diego Union newspaper announces America’s First Out-Of-Door Organ.
Looking out onto the stage from inside.
Looking out onto the stage from inside.

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Robert Plimpton plays the Spreckels Organ.

Robert Plimpton at the Spreckels Organ.
Robert Plimpton at the Spreckels Organ in Balboa Park.

Who’s that person at the microphone in the Spreckels Organ Pavilion? It looks like Robert Plimpton, San Diego’s Civic Organist Emeritus! Most of the time he uses his amazing musical talent as resident Organist of the First United Methodist Church.

Robert Plimpton was San Diego’s official Civic Organist from 1984 to 2000, when Dr. Carol Williams (first woman in the United States to be appointed Civic Organist) took his place. She happened to be out of town, so he returned for last Sunday’s free public concert in Balboa Park . . . and played magnificently, of course!

I tried to get a good photo of the organ’s enormous pipes, but the images turned out too shadowy. I’ll try again at some future time!

One plaque at the historic Spreckels Organ Pavilion. Dedicated to the people of San Diego and all the world, by the philanthropist Spreckels brothers in 1915.
A plaque at the historic Spreckels Organ Pavilion. Dedicated to the people of San Diego and all the world, by the philanthropist Spreckels brothers in 1915.
View of Spreckels Organ Pavilion from Japanese Friendship Garden.
View of Spreckels Organ Pavilion from a spot near the Japanese Friendship Garden.
Bust of John D. Spreckels watches organ concerts behind benches.
Bust of John D. Spreckels watches organ concerts behind benches.

Here’s a photo I took in late 2015, during Balboa Park’s yearlong centennial celebration.

Patricia McAfee, mezzo soprano, and Robert Plimpton, San Diego Civic Organist Emeritus, perform during A Tribute to Kate Sessions, "The Mother of Balboa Park" concert on November 8, 2015.
Patricia McAfee, mezzo soprano, and Robert Plimpton, San Diego Civic Organist Emeritus, entertain a Sunday afternoon audience during “A Tribute to Kate Sessions, The Mother of Balboa Park” concert on November 8, 2015.