KU to welcome Notre Dame Cathedral organists for history-making performance this week

In this file photo from 2007, an organist plays at the University of Kansas' Bales Organ Recital Hall at the Lied Center.

This week, for the first time in history, the three principal organists of Notre Dame Cathedral will perform together outside of Paris.

And they’re venturing halfway around the world to do it. The University of Kansas this week will host Notre Dame organists Olivier Latry, Vincent Dubois and Philippe Lefebvre as part of this year’s American Guild of Organists National Pedagogy Conference.

“The is, we believe, the only time in the entire history of Notre Dame Cathedral dating back to the 12th century that all three organists have participated in one event off-site — in other words, outside of the cathedral — ever,” said Michael Bauer, a professor of organ and church music at KU. “We think that’s pretty significant.”

For musicians like Bauer, this week represents “probably the largest gathering of French organ players of this caliber” to ever occur in the U.S.

The French organ tradition is often regarded as one of the greatest in the world, Bauer said. Organists from across the globe are expected to attend this week’s conference, slated for Wednesday through Saturday at KU.

Other noted performers include Michel Bouvard, professor of organ at the Paris Conservatory; Aurélie Decourt, historian and daughter of the famed French organist Marie-Claire Alain; and Shin-Young Lee, a celebrated French concert artist.

On Wednesday at 8 p.m., all five of the visiting French artists will stage a concert “the likes of which have never really happened anywhere,” Bauer said, participating in a concert mass as it would have performed in 17th century France — with one small twist.

The musicians will alternate Gregorian chants (courtesy of the visiting chant choir from Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, Neb.) with organ music, mixing an 18th century piece and a brand-new improvised movement.

“On Friday night Philippe Lefebvre, who many people in my profession would say is the world’s greatest improviser, is going to give an entirely improvised recital in a variety of styles,” Bauer said, “From baroque style all the way through contemporary styles.”

That evening’s performance, slated for 8 p.m., will also include an improvised piece inspired by “Lawrence” and “Kansas,” spelling out the words on the organ through a special interpretation of the musical alphabet.

KU has long boasted one of the largest organ departments among American universities, Bauer said, with the School of Music hosting several of this week’s visiting artists individually at different points over the years.

But never all three principal Notre Dame organists all at once. Not at KU, and not anywhere else in the world.

“We’ve been working on this for four years,” Bauer guesses. “It all came together, and we’re excited that it’s happening this week.”

This week’s concerts will be open to the public and will take place at KU’s Bales Organ Recital Hall at the Lied Center, 1600 Stewart Drive.

Concert tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and free for students. They can be purchased at the Lied Center ticket office, by phone at 864-2787 or online at www.lied.ku.edu.

Concert schedule:

Wednesday, Oct. 18 at 8 p.m. — French organists Olivier Latry, Vincent Dubois, Philippe Lefebvre, Michel Bouvard and Shin-Young Lee will participate in a concert mass as it would have been celebrated in 17th century France, alternating chant with organ music.

Thursday, Oct. 19 at 4 p.m. — Shin-Young Lee, noted French concert artist

Thursday, Oct. 19 at 8 p.m. — Olivier Latry, Notre-Dame Cathedral organist

Friday, Oct. 20 at 4:30 p.m. — Michel Bouvard, professor of organ at the Paris Conservatory

Friday, Oct. 20 at 8:00, p.m. — Philippe Lefebvre, Notre Dame Cathedral organist, will present a completely improvised recital

Saturday, Oct. 21 at 11 a.m. — Vincent Dubois, Notre Dame Cathedral organist