Most people think pipe organs are basically all alike, says 21-year-old concert organist Matt Curlee.
But to Mr. Curlee, the sixth American and one of the youngest winners of the Grand Prix de Chartres, the organists' equivalent of the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition, differences between organs can be vast.
Pipe organs can have different numbers of pipes, keyboards and keys. Each instrument is unique, said Keith Shafer, the organist at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. This may not seem like a big deal, but even a musician in top form can't hop from one organ bench to another without some adjustment.
"It's almost like playing a violin one day and then a cello the next," said Mr. Curlee, who will perform Sunday at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. "Very few people realize how different organs are," he said during a recent phone conversation from his Rochester, N.Y., apartment near the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester, where he is a student.
To familiarize himself with St. Paul's recently rebuilt Casavant pipe organ -- an instrument valued at more than $600,000 -- Mr. Curlee plans to arrive in town today to begin preparing for Sunday's show.
The concert, the third installment of this season's Riverwalk Series, will include works by Bach, Mendelssohn and Froberger, running about one hour, 20 minutes.
Mr. Curlee, who is working on a lecture program on the complete organ works of French composer Maurice Durufle, will also use the opportunity to hone his oratorical skills.
"I'm going to talk a good bit between pieces. I try not to get bogged down in historical details unless they are pertinent. But I like to give people something to grab on to and to listen for," he said.
A native of Greensboro, N.C., Mr. Curlee began noodling around on instruments when he was 2 or 3 years old, he said.
"It's hard to tell when I went from banging to actually playing," he said.
He began taking piano lessons when he was 11 or 12, learned to play horns and later started playing organ because of its versatility, dynamic range and power.
"It feels like you're playing a whole orchestra," he said. "Being a conductor wasn't immediate enough."
The Riverwalk Concert Series featuring organist Matt Curlee
4 p.m. Sunday
St. Paul's Episcopal
Church, 605 Reynolds St. at Riverwalk Augusta.
$15 adults, $5 children 12 and younger
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