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PREVIEW: Berkshire Bach Society presents Peter Sykes in recital on the ‘finest organ in America’ at First Congregational Church, Saturday, April 13

His most recent solo recordings include the dedication recital on the Tannenberg organ in Old Salem and the complete Bach harpsichord partitas.

Great Barrington — Principal instructor of harpsichord at The Juilliard School in New York City and associate professor of music and chair of the Historical Performance Department at Boston University, Peter Sykes will perform a program of music by Bach, Buxtehude, and Mendelssohn on April 13 at the First Congregational Church. The performance is part of the Berkshire Bach Society’s Organ Masters series, which in February saw Renée Anne Louprette perform a recital at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House in Housatonic.

The Roosevelt organ at the First Congregational Church in Great Barrington. Photo by David Noel Edwards.

As prominent as he is among the world’s great organ virtuosos, Peter Sykes is not the only big name on this billing, the other being Hilborne L. Roosevelt: Of 34 extant organs built by Roosevelt (1849–1886), the one he made in 1883 for Great Barrington’s First Congregational Church is the largest. In its day considered the finest organ in America, the instrument has 73 ranks, three manuals, and 60 stops, with gilded pipes towering above the church’s sanctuary like glittering spires in the land of Oz. The organ’s sound has changed little since it was built in 1883, owing to a lack of funds over the years to “modernize” the instrument according to the latest fashions in musical style.

An inside view of the historic Hilborne Roosevelt Organ at the First Congregational Church in Great Barrington. Peter Sykes has been known to make minor organ repairs in the middle of a recital. It’s fun to see him solve a mechanical problem in real time, then go on playing as if nothing had happened. Photo by David Noel Edwards.

Peter Sykes studied with Gabriel Chodos, Blanche Winogron, Mireille Lagacé, Robert Schuneman, Yuko Hayashi, and Bernard Lagacé. He holds degrees from the New England Conservatory and Concordia University in Montreal. Over the last few decades, he has demonstrated not only outstanding talent but what Boston University and other experts call “an exceptional diversity of accomplishment.” His most recent solo recordings include the dedication recital on the Tannenberg organ in Old Salem, available on the Raven label, and the complete Bach harpsichord partitas, available on the Centaur label, one of the oldest and largest independent classical labels in America.

Organist Peter Sykes. Photo by Susan Wilson.

Peter has served since 1985 as director of music at First Church in Cambridge, whose YouTube channel and live-streamed Sunday services provide opportunities to hear Peter’s playing and direction without having to deal with any of Boston’s automobile traffic.

Peter’s skills as an educator and mentor of aspiring musicians are in high demand. He joined the faculty of the Juilliard School as principal instructor of harpsichord in September 2014 and has adjudicated competitions sponsored by the American Guild of Organists, the Royal Canadian College of Organists, the Bach International Harpsichord Festival in Montreal, the Broadwood Harpsichord Competition in London, and the Miami International Organ Competition. He is also a member of the organ department faculty at the University of Michigan.

As the Berkshires’ oldest continuously operating membership-based music organization, the Berkshire Bach Society’s mission is to promulgate the wonders and pleasures of Baroque music through world-class performances and educational presentations in the Berkshires, Pioneer Valley, and Capital Region.

Hear Principal Instructor of Harpsichord at The Juilliard School and Associate Professor of Music and Chair of the Historical Performance Department at Boston University Peter Sykes perform a program of music by Bach, Buxtehude, and Mendelssohn on April 13, 4 p.m., at the First Congregational Church, located at 251 Main Street, directly across the road from Yellow House Books in the heart of Great Barrington. Tickets are available here.

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