PORTLAND, Maine — At long last, the heart and soul of Merrill Auditorium is coming back to its home. Since it was installed in the auditorium in 1912, the Kotzschmar Organ has been an integral element in Portland’s history and arts.
As one of the two surviving municipal organs in the United States, the Kotzschmar draws attendees and performers from across the country for concerts, festivals, demonstrations, and more. It has seen a century of use in the Merrill Auditorium, and is now in the charge of Portland’s tenth municipal organist, Ray Cornils. For the past two years, however, the auditorium has been without its instrumental centerpiece.
In 2012, the organ — all 50 tons of it — was disassembled and transported to Foley-Baker, Inc., in Connecticut for professional renovation and cleaning. With almost 7,000 pipes, 100 miles of wiring, and a wind chest the size of a tractor-trailer, the revitalization of this century-old organ was no easy task. Currently, the pieces of the organ are being returned and reinstalled, and the project is on track to be completed this summer.
An extensive calendar of events has been planned to celebrate the Kotzschmar’s homecoming, beginning with the Grand Opening Concert on Saturday, Sept. 27. The concert will be followed by a full season of performances, lectures, and more, with the mission of cultivating public awareness and appreciation of the Kotzschmar. The season will feature organ tours and demonstrations, silent films, festivals, family concerts, and the 25th anniversary of the Maine classic “Christmas with Cornils – A Kotzschmar Christmas.”
Although the organ belongs to the city, the Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ (FOKO) is a non-profit organization that has provided the funding for Kotzschmar-related events, educational programs, and maintenance since 1981.
The renovation and reinstallation has created a substantial amount of anticipation, both for the group and in the community. “The Kotzschmar Organ is a symbol of Portland’s rich cultural history,” says FOKO’s executive director, Kathleen Grammer in a press release, “and we’re beyond excited to have it returning to the Merrill Auditorium this year. The reinstallation will allow audiences to experience the organ with the clarity and vibrancy it was originally intended to produce.”
A date for ticket sales is coming soon, but for more information on the upcoming season, the history and restoration of the Kotzschmar Organ, and the FOKO organization please visit http://www.foko.org.