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Cameron Carpenter, NYC. Photo by Michael Hart

Cameron Carpenter: Not your grandmother’s organist

By Jennifer Cavanagh on April 4, 2016

Cameron Carpenter is not your grandmother’s organist.  A far cry from the pious image frequently associated with the “church’s instrument”, the mohawked and diamanté styled Carpenter smashes any attempt to typecast while his virtuoso composer-performer talents dazzle the uninitiated and authorities alike.

Inspired at the tender age of 4 by images of silent-movie organ-playing accompanists, Carpenter carved out an unconventional style and, while sparking controversy among the establishment, his mighty talent and masterful technique are never in question.  A keyboard prodigy born in Pennsylvania, Carpenter went on to receive a Master’s Degree from New York’s Juilliard School before beginning his international touring career a decade ago at age 24.  Currently residing in Berlin, this is Carpenter’s second appearance in Ottawa having been part of Alexander Shelley’s introductory program in 2014 prior to Shelley taking over as Maestro of the NAC Orchestra.

Having seen Carpenter perform at the BBC Proms in 2012 – an electrifying and eye-opening delight-  I fairly elbowed Ottawan’s out of the way to get tickets to that NAC performance. Top tip, watch his feet, watch his feet! Carpenter trained as a dancer for 14 years and I’m convinced this training comes to the fore in his stance and accomplished sense of showmanship.

Given the unwieldy nature of a bank of organ pipes, Carpenter travels with the custom-made International Touring Organ that he helped design and, like himself, pushes the edges of the instrument doing much more than the traditional “king-of-instruments”.  It’s a delight to witness an innovative creation in such a traditional arena and befitting of the drama and execution Carpenter brings.

As is his preference, tonight’s program will be announced from the stage though offerings from Bach, Wagner, Barber and Liszt are promised as are Carpenter’s own composition.  Expect the compositions to be re-worked, re-imagined and electrified. Carpenter won’t deliver a reverent homage but technique and genius are assured.

If you’re a lover of classical music, go. If you’ve never seen or experienced an organ recital, go. A swoon-worthy performance is guaranteed.

Cameron Carpenter performs at the National Arts Centre tonight, April 4, 2016, at 8pm. Tickets are $25 and available online. Live rush student tickets are available now for $15.