Stephen Tharp a concert organist, church organist and recording artist recently made a video of his transcription of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice on the pipe organ at Our Lady of Refuge Church in Brooklyn. Which was recently restored through a colaboration of A.R. Schopp’s Sons and Quimby Pipe Organ. The funds were raised largely through over 1500 online donation, with gift made by people who have never been to Brooklyn.
Interview with organist Stephen Tharp and record and video producer Joe Vitacco
Stephen, what inspired you to make this transcription of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice?
I seek two kinds of organ transcriptions; those that are interesting and worth introducing to people, and those of pieces people would already know well. Disney’s brilliant movie Fantasia solidified Paul Dukas’ work together with Mickey Mouse in the threads of popular culture 60 years ago, and so people relate to the The Sorcerer’s Apprentice immediately.
How do you approach a smallish instrument at OLR with some what limited resources to play this big orchestral transcription?
I can always simplify registrations to a more classical sense with a smaller organ, one with fewer orchestral ranks such as high pressure stops, color reeds and multiple layers of strings. In this case, more traditionally “organ” sound gives the transcription an idiomatic sense of how this music might have been conceived if written for the organ in the first place. With that approach, I think this version as presented at Our Lady of refuge is very successful in this way.
What is the secret to your technique that allows you to play scales almost at super human speeds and in a very controlled and musical manner?
Deliberate and conscious economy of motion. I worked some with Jean Guillou in Paris when I was 22 years old; he has, without question, the greatest pedal technique in the world, for starters. A great deal of that rubbed off on me. Quietude equals relaxed muscles and fluency, and that applies across the board with keyboard technique.
What is your process of making a transcription?
I usually work with full orchestral scores for textures, even if I consult piano versions for idiomatic possibilities as well. Once I fuse these elements into something logical, I try to perform from memory as often as is realistic.
What does your son Adrian think of the transcription?
Adrian, who is 2-1/2, knows the Fantasia version like the back of his hand. When he hears me play this live he immediately connects it to Mickey Mouse and the film, even without watching it. He can also anticipate and conduct only the music.
What is your reaction in playing the organ at Our Lady of Refuge now verse 8 years ago days before it was removed from the church?
It’s two different creatures. Like dusting off a vintage car that’s lost its paint luster and squeaks a bit. The organ now has an evenness, brightness and clarity that wasn’t close to possible before, and individual ranks really “sing” as they should.