We are thrilled to soon be welcoming 10 of the brightest young organists from around the globe for our 2023 Longwood Gardens International Organ Competition … during which these talented musicians ages 18 to 30 will compete before a panel of renowned judges, on our 10,010-pipe Longwood Organ, in a quest for the largest cash prize of any organ competition in the world—the $40,000 Pierre S. du Pont First Prize.
With Preliminary Rounds on June 20 and 21 and the Final Round on June 24—for which you can join us—the competition is quickly approaching and, from some of the competitors readying themselves for their first trip to the States to studying the Longwood Organ as much as they can ahead of time, our competitors are getting ready for this renowned event.
Competing in the Longwood Gardens International Organ Competition is a multi-step process. Last fall, competitors from around the world applied for the first step—the qualification round—by submitting an up to 30-minute recorded performance of contrasting works demonstrating technical virtuosity, lyric sensitivity and shaping, and nuanced control of instrumental timbre. An audition jury of six esteemed members of the organ community anonymously evaluated the competitors’ audition recordings and, in February, selected the 10 competitors to move onto the competition round to be held in June here at Longwood. All 10 competitors will compete in the Preliminary Round, while only five will be selected for the Final Round.
Among the 10 competitors who in June will travel to Longwood to compete for the top prize is Bryan Anderson (30), an organist, church musician, teacher, and musical collaborator—as well as the 2019 Longwood Gardens Organ Competition Firmin Swinnen Second Prize winner. The Director of Music at Saint Thomas’ Episcopal Church and School in Houston, Anderson returns to Longwood for the 2023 competition after the “fantastic experience” of the 2019 competition that “showed me very clearly where I was and where I could improve as a solo performer at that time.”
When asked what it would mean to win this year’s competition, Anderson shares, “It would mean that the music I bring and the way I present it is communicated effectively, and that I as a player am on the same wavelength as the ears of the listeners. When that happens, if that can happen, in any context, it’s extremely fulfilling.”
For Amelie Held (26)—who recently debuted at some of Germany’s major cathedrals and concert halls and is currently living in New York City while pursuing her Artist Diploma studies at The Juilliard School—the organ’s appeal lies in the fact that “there is no other instrument that can reproduce the sounds of an entire orchestra and even more. I’m my own ‘one-girl-orchestra’ and conductor at the same time—no one tells me what to do.”
Raised in Munich, Germany, Held released her debut album at the age of 22. When it comes to the upcoming competition, Held is “excited to get the chance to play this stunning instrument as well as meeting the other competitors … and spending time in the beautiful gardens and gathering inspiration being surrounded daily by all the lovely plants and flowers.”
A senior undergraduate at the University of Kansas and the Principal Organist at the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas, Aidan Hill (22), studied piano from an early age and began organ lessons at the age of 11.
Hill remembers “being surprised at my first organ lessons by how real the sound is; I could hear the air moving through the organ when it was turned on, the air moving through the pipes, and hearing individual pipes from different parts of the organ. As an instrument to improvise on, the possibilities are endless.” With the Longwood Organ, Hill is “excited to experiment with all the literal bells and whistles on the organ; it’s an opportunity to play an organ unlike any other I have before.”
Currently a doctoral candidate at McGill University in Quebec, Samuel Lee (26), is the recipient of a long list of awards, including placing third in the Royal Canadian College of Organists’ National Organ Playing Competition in 2021. Lee began his musical career playing piano and flute; when his piano teacher informed him that the Royal Canadian College of Organists was offering 10 hours of free organ lessons for piano students, he decided to give it a chance.
“To me, the sound of the organ is the most appealing—the beautiful sound and the reverberance of the building,” shares Lee. “There’s just something warm and special about how the music can carry swirling emotions around the entire building surrounding both the performer and the audience alike.”
Returning to Longwood to compete in his third Longwood Gardens International Organ Competition, Director of Music at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Little Rock, Arkansas, Colin MacKnight (29) garnered the Clarence Snyder Third Prize in both the 2016 and 2019 competitions.
To win the 2023 competition would be “a really significant recognition of years and thousands of hours of hard work, as it would be for any competitor,” shares MacKnight. “As someone who has competed twice before and gotten bronze both items, it would feel amazing to surpass that and finally take home the gold,” he continues. “Having competed twice before, I am somewhat familiar with the Longwood Organ. That being said, one could spend a lifetime getting to know that instrument.”
Arthur Nicolas-Nauche (28) will celebrate his 29th birthday—and his first trip to the United States—at Longwood. Particularly interested in the music of the 19th and 20th centuries and improvisation, he is convinced by the idea that the organ should be closer to the public.
Nicolas-Nauche is Titular Organist of Saint Gabriel Church in Paris and professor of musical theory at the Conservatoire à Rayonnement Départemental de Montreuil. He started to play the organ “because I was attracted by the gigantism of the instrument … I think that what attracts me is the lot of possibilities who characterize the instrument.”
Working on his master’s degree in organ performance at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music and the former Titular Organist at Église du Très-Saint-Nom-de-Jésus in Montréal, whose four-manual, 120-rank Casavant organ is acclaimed as one of Canada’s finest, Alexander Straus-Fausto (23) from Kitchener, Ontario, is passionate about the symphonic organ as a virtually unlimited medium for artistic expression. As a toddler playing a keyboard, his parents realized he could play songs by ear.
“Because I could play by ear and music fascinated me, I tried my hand at most instruments, but I wanted all of their sounds and could not choose one instrument,” he shares. “I chose the organ because I love to control its myriad of sounds and replicate the sound of an orchestra… Also, my great-great-grandfather Holme was a piano accompanist for silent films, and I love that the organ was used to accompany films.” Straus-Fausto returns to Longwood as a competitor after first attending the Longwood Organ Academy—a week-long academy in which college students study organ transcriptions on the Longwood Organ—in 2022.
A member of the young generation of Hungarian organists, Ádám Tabajdi (29) has gained extensive international experience as the intern of the Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris and as the resident organist of the Sapporo Concert Hall, Kitara, Japan. In 2021 he won the First Prize and the Audience Prize of the 13th Toulouse International Organ Competition.
For Tabajdi, who has been “closely following every contest since the [Longwood] competition's existence,” when it comes to the Longwood Gardens International Organ Competition, he is most excited about “primarily the organ itself. There is an incredible amount of potential in this instrument. In addition, in recent years I have been very interested in the world of organ transcriptions, so for me this is a perfect opportunity to develop myself and experience a completely new organ style.”
Ashley Wagner (27), the Assistant Head of Music of Birmingham Cathedral, followed the 2019 Longwood Gardens International Organ Competition by watching all of the performances online and “decided that this is a competition that I would really like to do if I could.”
With the 2023 competition, he makes his first trip to the States and his first time playing the Longwood Organ—but since watching the 2019 competition, he’s listened to all the recordings of the Longwood Organ that he could find and has spoken to a few people have played it. “Everyone says it’s a special place and a special organ,” he says of Longwood. When asked what it would mean to win the competition: “I would love to win first prize in an international organ competition … in some ways, I think it’s best to ignore the fact that it’s a competition and just try and present something you think is good and do it with integrity.”
A first-year master’s student of organ performance at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Aleksanteri Wallius (23) shares that he’s “very excited to meet brilliant young musicians. Of course the Longwood Organ will be something glorious, exceptional, and challenging for me since I have no experience with American organs. It’ll also be my first time in the US!”
While he shares that “preparing for something this big is a long process which requires plenty of planning, determination, and support,” it seems as though Wallius is well-equipped for the challenge: nominated as the “Young Artist” of the 2018 international Pori Organ Festival, in 2020 he performed all of Louis Vierne’s six organ symphonies in one day in the Turku Cathedral.
Experience the talent of these 10 young organists during the 2023 Longwood Gardens International Organ Competition. Learn more and buy tickets.