Aris Antoniades’ Toccata & Fugue Performed at St. John the Divine in NYC

Greek-Cypriot composer Aris Antoniades and organist Shannon Murphy. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

NEW YORK – Greek-Cypriot composer Aris Antoniades’ Toccata & Fugue for Organ had its world premiere just last month at St. Michael’s Church in Manhattan where it was performed by gifted organist Shannon Murphy as part of Fresh Pipes: A Concert of World Premieres for Organ, a project created by Murphy and fellow organist Austin Philemon. The piece, commissioned for that project, once again impressed all those in attendance but on a much grander scale when it was performed by Murphy as the opening piece of her Organ Recital on March 24 at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in Manhattan.

Born and raised in Limassol, Cyprus, Antoniades expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to hear his work played on the iconic Great Organ at St. John the Divine. His Toccata & Fugue is already an impressive composition with its magical, lyrical quality and powerful dramatic moments, but hearing it in the massive space of the Cathedral, performed so skillfully by Murphy on the famed instrument, was a truly memorable experience.

Antoniades’ composition, his first ever for organ, is masterful and creates a powerful emotional effect, especially in the dramatic setting of the Cathedral. The audience was entranced by the piece and applauded enthusiastically.

A partial view of the organ at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

The recital continued with Murphy’s dynamic performance of The Planets, Op. 32, II. Venus by Gustan Holst, transcribed by Peter Sykes; Prelude and Fugue in E Minor, BWV 548 by J.S. Bach; Suite Breve II. Cantilene by Jean Langlais; and Cortege et litanie, Op. 19, No. 2 by Marcel Dupre.

Following the performance, Antoniades told The National Herald that he flew in from Cyprus just for the recital since it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to hear his music played at St. John the Divine. Many of those who heard the comment all agreed that the talented, yet humble, composer who has already written such wonderful music will undoubtedly have many more opportunities in the future to hear his work performed.

Among those present were Manhattan School of Music (MSM) faculty members including Composition Department Chair Professor J. Mark Stambaugh and Walter Hilse who congratulated Antoniades on his work and Murphy on her performance. Also present, though keeping a low profile, was world-renowned soprano Jessye Norman.

According to its website, the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, the mother church of the Episcopal Diocese of New York and the Seat of its Bishop, is the largest cathedral (a church that is also the seat of a bishop) in the world. Measured by length or internal volume, it is one of the five largest church buildings in the world. Construction began in 1892 and continues to this day. Ernst Skinner began building the Great Organ in 1910. In 1954, the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company expanded the Great Organ from its original 5,000 pipes to the present size of 8,035 pipes arranged in 141 ranks.

More information about Aris Antoniades is available online: arisantoniades.com.

Manhattan School of Music Composition Department Chair Professor J. Mark Stambaugh, Walter Hilse, and Greek-Cypriot composer Aris Antoniades at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Photo by Eleni Sakellis
The central nave of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, facing the altar. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

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