Also performing will be the Androscoggin Chorale and the basilica choir

A church without an organ somehow seems incomplete.

For Catholic churches, a proper Mass should have two of the celestial instruments. After several years of doing without, the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul can once again conduct sung Masses in the style that French composers intended them.

To celebrate the rededication of the chancel organ, the basilica will host a concert featuring the combined choirs of the basilica and the Androscoggin Chorale. The highlight of the concert will be a solo organ performance by Dr. Jennifer Pascual, music director and organist at the Cathedral of St. Patrick in New York.

The concert will begin at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 26, and is free of charge to the public. The church will accept freewill donations to go toward further refurbishing of the chancel organ, said Scott Vaillancourt, music director and organist for the basilica.

The choirs will sing Louis Vierne’s “Messe Solennelle” with dual accompaniment by Pascual and Vallaincourt. Pascual will then perform solo pieces of her choosing.

When the smaller pipe organ, which sits behind the front altar, was first dedicated in 1938, the organist at the time for St. Patrick’s came to play, said Vaillancourt. The church then had the customary dual organs with one behind the altar and a larger pipe organ in the back choir loft.

French composers in the late 19th and 20th centuries commonly wrote the sung parts of a Mass, explained Vallaincourt. “The use of two organs creates a unique spacial sound. This particular composition by Vierne has a very lush, romantic sound with lots of rich harmonies.”

The basilica lost the tradition of dual organs for a while during the refurbishing of the church and the elevation to basilica status. The smaller chancel organ was disconnected and in disrepair. Nearly $75,000 has gone into reviving the organ and probably another $200,000 is needed to restore it to full quality, said Vallaincourt.

Last year, the organ regained enough of its elaborate wiring system to be used again. Around the same time, in late March, the Androscoggin Chorale and the Maine Chamber Ensemble under the Maine Music Society performed a concert of Braham’s Requiem with the Bates College Orchestra and Bates College Choir, and the choirs of Lewiston and Edward Little high schools.

Since then, Vallaincourt has been organizing the upcoming concert to celebrate the organ and traditional French Mass.

Vallaincourt invited the Androscoggin Chorale of the Maine Music Society to return for a celebratory performance. The chorale readily agreed as a gesture of appreciation for its use of the basilica, said John Corrie, artistic director for MMS.

“We thought it would be a very nice way of saying ‘thank-you’ for allowing us to use the basilica last year,” said Corrie.

A local resident suggested that Lewiston once again invite the organist from the prestigious New York cathedral. That resident, who chooses to remain anonymous, agreed to pay for Pasual’s performance, said Vallaincourt.

“We got lucky with the timing,” noted Vallaincourt. “This almost clashed with the Pope’s visit.”

Pascual received her appointment to Cathedral of St. Patrick in 2003 and is the first woman to hold the music director’s position. According to her online bio, she can be heard four times a week on SIRIUS Satellite Radio with its live broadcast of the New York Mass. She also hosts a radio talk and music show called “Sounds from the Spires” on the same channel.

Local musicians are anxiously awaiting Pascual’s arrival in Lewiston as they have yet to hold a combined rehearsal with all of the musical elements in place, said Corrie. Vallaincourt explained that concerts in the classical French tradition customarily opened with a sung Mass.

Vierne was born nearly blind in 1870. His work epitomizes organ music from the Romantic period, said Vallaincourt. Vierne composed “Messe Solennelle” in 1900 and played as the principal organist at the cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris from that time until his death in 1937.

“It’s a beautiful piece,” said Corrie, who also directs the Bates College Choir and has invited his students to join the upcoming performance. “It really does need a big organ sound.”

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