- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2006

Ten area organists yesterday took part in a marathon event to celebrate the 321st birthday of German composer Johann Sebastian Bach.

“We celebrate primarily his organ compositions, which number about 225,” said Kenneth Lowenberg, 66, a minister of music at Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church in Northwest, where the five-hour annual Bach Marathon was held.

After the marathon ended, many attended a German dinner. Bach, who wrote more than 1,100 compositions, was born March 21, 1685, and died July 28, 1750.

Mr. Lowenberg, who is retiring in July after serving 38 years as the music minister, began the marathon 29 years ago.

The event has been held every year shortly after the church purchased a Rieger organ with more than 2,500 pipes. It was made by Rieger Orgelbau of Schwarzach, Austria.

“I’m very hopeful that they’ll keep it going,” Mr. Lowenberg said of the marathon.

The mood in the 400-seat sanctuary where the marathon was held indicated that fans would return if the event continues.

The musicians played Bach’s pieces on the Rieger organ, which was installed in 1975. The organ is a three-manual, 40-stop (or 50-rank) tracker instrument, encased in wood and glass, church officials said.

“We don’t hear organ music that often,” said Peter Clepper, 74, of Bethesda. “I come every time I am [in town].”

Mr. Clepper and his wife have attended the marathon on and off “for 20 years,” he said.

This year, each performer included in his or her program one of Bach’s major preludes and fugues.

Some fans stayed through the entire five-hour program, and many stayed for a couple hours.

Typically, the fans would arrive or depart between performances by the organists, each of whom played for about 30 minutes. There were about 150 attentive and quiet listeners halfway through the marathon.

Most in the audience were older, although one appeared to be about 5 and occasionally snuggled closer to his father’s arm.

John W. Brooks, 50, of Gaithersburg, who was the first to perform, said he hopes that the marathon continues and that he is invited to particpate again.

He is an organist and director of music at Christ Church zParish Kensington.

Mr. Lowenberg said the pipes produce tones like the various instruments of an orchestra.

“It’s particularly good for the music of Bach,” he said.

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