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Watch: New Work by Composer Gerald Levinson to Debut at Notre Dame Cathedral

Gerald Levinson and Olivier Latry

Gerald Levinson and Olivier Latry rehearse Levinson's new piece for the Cathedral's organ.

A new work by composer Gerald Levinson will have its first performance at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris on Tues., May 28. The performance, by the cathedral’s titular organist Olivier Latry, will take place in honor of the 850th anniversary of the beginning of construction on the Cathedral.

“The piece, ‘Au coeur de l'infini,’ was conceived with the gigantic reverberant space of Notre Dame in mind,” Levinson says. “The space is reflected in the title [At the heart of the infinite] and in the frequent long pauses intended to be filled with resonances.”

“It's an adventure to compose for organ with its nearly infinite resources of color and nuance,” Levinson says, “and requires very close collaboration between composer and performer to work out the details of registration, or the choice of combinations of stops for each sound in the piece.” At last count, Levinson and Latry had worked out 98 combinations, or changes of color, for the 12-minute piece.

organ at Notre Dame Cathedral
The organ at Notre Dame Cathedral

“This collaboration is as fundamental to the work as instrumentation is to an orchestral work,” Levinson says. “Latry has had my score to study for many months, but the real work on registration has taken place in two marathon late-night sessions in the vast dark space of the cathedral after hours.”

This is Levinson’s second work for organ and the second for Latry. The first was "Toward Light" for organ and orchestra, commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra for the inauguration of the new organ in Verizon Hall at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center in 2006. That piece was the first music ever performed on that instrument.

“Olivier Latry and I have remained friends since then,” Levinson says, “and this new work is the result of that friendship and of my admiration for his phenomenal brilliance and profound musicianship.”

After the premiere in Paris, Latry plans to take the piece on tour the following week, beginning with performances in Germany and Switzerland.

Levinson has taught at Swarthmore, where he is the Jane Lang Professor of Music, since 1977. His vocal, chamber, and orchestral works have been widely performed in the U.S., France, and England, and in 1990, he received the Music Award for lifetime achievement of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. This year, he served on the jury for the Pulitzer Prize in music.

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