One evening in 1994, while browsing through organ CDs at Barnes and Noble, I ran across a hot-off-the-press recording of the new Mander organ at St. Ignatius Loyola in New York City. I didn’t live in New York at the time but had heard about the new instrument and the well-deserved acclaim it was receiving at quite a young age.
Within minutes of my purchase, I was sitting in front of my living room speakers, encased in sumptuous sounds reminiscent of the organs at the Riverside Church and the Mormon Tabernacle. The organist was none other than the church’s director of music ministries, Kent Tritle, who played with deft, articulate command and elegantly subtle nuance as he plumbed the tonal depths of the new instrument. Mr. Tritle, along with then-pastor the Reverend Walter F. Modrys, and the brilliant John Pike Mander, formed the team spearheading the creation of the four-manual, 68-stop organ, dedicated in recital by David Higgs on April 27, 1993, to an overflow crowd. Within months of its dedication, the organ had achieved international status.
What a privilege it was six years later to visit St. Ignatius and sit at the keydesk of this landmark instrument. From the brilliant fire of the harmonic reeds to the broad scope of the string celestes to the liquid flutes and the warmth of the foundations, not to mention the beautifully piquant color reeds and the en chamades that crown the ensemble, there was no part of this instrument that didn’t fire the imagination. The opportunity to play an organ such as this, especially when married to the ravishing acoustic of St. Ignatius, was and is still a pinnacle experience.
When organist and builder set out to create such a distinctive instrument, the question of durability and functionality—aesthetic, as well as mechanical—always arises. Will the 50,000 interconnected parts withstand the often harsh climate of New York City, as well as the dirt, and wear and tear? Will the tonal palette sound fresh a quarter-century from now? Will the organ be able to serve, not just as a showstopping recital instrument, but as a bold leader of song and graceful accompanist as well? Over the last 25 years, it is clear to everyone associated with this organ that it wildly exceeded all expectations, even after a renovation and cleaning of the church that substantially brightened the acoustic. At 25, a pipe organ may be considered “seasoned,” but certainly not old. With a firm commitment from parish, clergy, and musicians, along with the care of highly skilled technicians, such as our extraordinary curator, Larry Trupiano, one should expect more than a century (or even two) of reliable service from a well-designed, conscientiously crafted instrument. But the quarter-century mark is a good time to look back with gratitude to those whose imaginations and skills brought this instrument into being, and for the manifold ways this organ has thrilled the soul, rejoicing in times of celebration and mourning in the face of sorrow. To this parish, the Mander organ has become a true partner in pastoral ministry.
As a concert and recording instrument, the Mander has been in demand to the point that the guest book at the organ reads like a Who’s Who in the organ world. Recordings by Mr. Tritle, John Scott, Anthony Newman, David Enlow, and Nancianne Parrella (St. Ignatius’s associate organist, 1993–2015), as well as solo recitals by Olivier Latry, Marie Claire-Alain, Gillian Weir, Simon Preston, David Higgs, Stephen Tharp, Thomas Murray, John Scott, Joan Lippincott, Sophie-Véronique Choplin, Paul Jacobs, Mary Preston, David Briggs, Guy Bovet, Thierry Escaich, and countless other luminaries of the organ world—too numerous to name in this space—are a testament to its stylistic flexibility, racecar-like responsiveness, and profoundly satisfying sonority.
The Mander’s remarkable sonic scope led Olivier Latry to choose St. Ignatius as the American site for his acclaimed cycle of Messiaen’s complete organ works in 2000, along with Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. But the supreme joy of playing the Mander has belonged to the resident organists of St. Ignatius over the years: Kent, Nanci, Renée Anne Louprette (associate director of music, 2005–2011), Andrew Henderson (assistant organist, 2001–2005), myself, and most recently our principal organist, Daniel Beckwith. Whether leading a hymn, accompanying a soloist at a wedding or funeral, or playing solo repertoire, we have all drawn deeply from the well of inspiration this great instrument affords.
As the Mander begins its next 25 years, we are confident in its ability to engage, inspire, and transform future generations as it has done since 1993. We sincerely hope you will make a pilgrimage this year to one of our concerts or masses, to bask in the beauty of the church and experience this crown jewel among New York City’s greatest pipe organs.
This article originally appeared in The American Organist, October 2017, in advance of the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the organ’s dedication.