Sunday, March 6, 2011

Organ Recital at Grace Cathedral - Culture for Free in the Bay

Our continued adventures in San Francisco took us to Nob Hill today and Grace Cathedral. We checked out Fun and Cheap in SF and found that Grace was holding a free organ recital. It's been some time since I've been in a cathedral, but my father was the minister of a downtown first church which was as close as Baptists can get to a cathedral.  Along with the dark cavernous Gothic architecture, I also grew up with an organ that you could walk through.

Needless to say it had been a long time since I had seen huge stained glass windows, flying buttresses, and large blocks of stone, let alone heard organ music that caused everything in 100 yard radius to vibrate.  We decided that a free concert would be worth the trip.  So we dressed up a little and headed across the Bay to Nob Hill.  We found a parking space on one of the steeply graded hills and squeezed our compact car next to the curve with some difficulty. 

Grace Cathedral has two labyrinths, one inside and one in a courtyard next to the main entrance of the sanctuary. Just inside, to the right there was and entrance to a chapel and some tapestries hanging on the columns.  The church had roped off the sanctuary passed the door to help control random visitors.  Christian and I were greeted by a man with programs.  Apparently there had been a singing group an hour earlier which we had missed.  I wasn't sorry about that, though looking at the church website, it's clear they have quite the eclectic series of musical acts that perform.  Today we had the pleasure of an accomplished organist, Gail Archer.

The music, by Franz Liszt, wasn't my favorite.  I would have preferred Mendelssohn or Bach.  Still, it was nice to hear the organ, even with typical Cathedral acoustics.  It was nice to be transported while taking in the stone columns and the gorgeous stained glass.  Below the windows were strange frescoes depicting political and church related scenes which seemed like a farse when viewed along with the windows showing iconic figures and the ornamental stone carvings decorating each column. I found myself thinking about all manner of things, about the church, about Catholicism (even though this church was Anglican), about my history with churches, and the different magical worlds created with each swell in the music.

Once it was over, I found myself wishing I could walk the labyrinth and explore the church grounds. Unfortunately it had begun a steady rain sometime during the second or third piece.  Grace is worth visiting, both the cathedral and the concept.  It's a beautiful space that has many things to offer (despite any problematic acoustics that might exist in the sanctuary). Any time you miss the sacred spaces of European Christendom, there's always an excellent specimen in downtown San Fransisco to visit that has great music.

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