Improvisations pull out all the stops.
Paul Halley creates a dramatic, musical journey on “Nightwatch”.
“Improvisation is perhaps the most direct form of musical communication. It involves the performer and the listener in a relationship as partners on a voyage of the mind. It is an expedition into uncharted territory, neither safe nor predictable, but, hopefully, exciting…” says Paul Halley, in his remarks about the origins of the stunning recording of organ improvisations he created on the Great Organ of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
“Nightwatch” is a set of improvised themes and spontaneous variations, played on the vast Aeolian-Skinner in the even vaster Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The format of the music, and the idea for this recording, was derived from the improvisational sessions created by Halley for groups of teenagers late on Friday nights at the Cathedral through a program called, not coincidentally, “Nightwatch”. In keeping with the dramatic setting of the world’s largest gothic cathedral at night, Halley would play upon a variety of tonal effects to engage his young listeners on a journey from “dusk” to “dawn”. Employing a broad tonal and dynamic range, from silken string tones to bright and heraldic trumpets, Halley would establish a mystical and highly charged atmosphere.
Capturing the mood of one of these sessions on a recording was not easy. Halley describes the technical problems facing the producer/engineer Chris Brown: “The organ pipes are spread over a distance of 550 feet, and have a dynamic range of at least two symphony orchestras. Owing to a reverberation period of over seven seconds and a constantly changing “climate” in the Cathedral, editing was impossible, and of course, none of the music could be repeated! But thanks to Chris, who insisted on spontaneity at all times, the recording evolved into a suite of improvisations comprising a symphonic whole which I thought of as a night-journey and, in deference to my severest critics, entitled Nightwatch.”
This Pelagos release in compact disc form is, in fact, a reissue of the 1982 Gramavision release, Nightwatch. The original audio recording has been digitally re-mastered by Tom Bates, and the biographical material, cover design and photography have been updated.
from The American Organist Magazine
"For some of us, the most memorable moments in several classic Paul Winter Consort albums are those in which the rich and grounded voice of the great organ at St. John the Divine, in the hands of Paul Halley, begins to simmer at the periphery and then swell to a truly heart-warming grander impossible for any other instrument to achieve. The album at hand is a welcome reissue of sessions taped at the cathedral in 1982, themselves grown out of Friday-night improvisational “happenings” for teenagers (what a wonderful way to be introduced to the organ!). As with Fejko above, Halley also (mostly) eschews sectarian ritual, instead creating a kind of supernatural realm for acoustic and emotional interplay. His dozen years as cathedral music director gave him ample time and reason to know this Aeolian-Skinner intimately, and he uses it brilliantly and subtly in creating panels of universal appeal. While the opening movement unfolds around the hymn ‘Picardy: Let all mortal flesh keep silence’, silence is the last thing on Paul’s mind as he next launches us into the vibrantly joyous celebration of “Moondance”. Energy ebbs and flows. Cornet, Flauto Mirabilis, French horn, and Gamba solos are superseded by thrilling diapason ensembles and Bombarde reed choruses, the swirling mass capped at several points by interjections from the distant west-end State Trumpet. At the time of its first release, “Nightwatch” was the best-sounding modern recording of this landmark instrument in the world’s largest Gothic cathedral. More recent albums (on the Pro Organo
label by Paul’s protégée, Dorothy Papadakos, and on Koch International by Marsha
Heather Long) have captured the poetry of the place with equal grace and power
(and with more minutes of listening pleasure per CD), but “Nightwatch” was and
remains a classic to the last reverberation."
- Michael Barone
Nationally-know host of NPR's 'Pipedreams'
which has given significant airplay to this album.
from The Living
“A re-issue (from LP to CD) of Paul Halley’s “Nightwatch” 1982 (Pelagos 1002) is a welcome delight for those who love to hear what their stereo speakers can deliver. Recorded at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine before the organ began to have noticeable problems, this completely improvised CD is a powerhouse of ingenuity, creativity and soulfulness. Halley’s mastery of styles from French impressionism to jazz and New Age is nothing short of absolute brilliance. Alas, the recording is short (under 40 minutes) but truly astounding in its impact. I would highly recommend this recording to anyone wanting to hear one of the world’s great organs played by one of the world’s creative giants.”
- Jonathan Dimmock
from The Christian Herald
"Halley's improvisations on the Cathedral's great organ dance, float, and sing as he carries us on a journey from dusk into the dawning of a new day. The album is at times joyous, at times meditative, but always uplifting and exciting."
from The Journal of the
Association of Anglican Musicians
"During his years (1977-1989) at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, Paul Halley frequently exercised his improvisational talents for the meditations of groups of teenagers who came to the Cathedral under the auspices of a program entitled Nightwatch, recaptured (in the course of five consecutive nights) on this 1982 recording, here remastered (AAD) and reissued in 1998.
The first of the five movements, “Sunset/Dusk”, is an extensive improvisation on the tune ‘Picardy’. The brief, lively “Moondance” must have made the young people sit up and want to move! The “Nocturne” provides a reflective, almost mystical contrast. As the overnight progresses, “Nightwatch” begins with a simple theme on the French horn stop, ‘then builds to a frenzied dance and is abruptly interrupted by the dawning of the first light’. “Dawn/Sunrise”, the longest of the movements, incorporates the ‘Adoro te devote’ and ends with the heralding of the new day on the famous State Trumpet.
This is another of my “armchair discs”, but in a different sense from what is sometimes called “easy listening” – one should settle down in a comfortable chair (though not one that might induce drowsiness!), turn off the lights, and experience this music. It lasts a bit less than 39 minutes, and no price was given with the copy sent to me, but I’d say it’s well worth the cost-per-minute.”
cultural arts magazine
“In this re-issue of a 1982 recording, Paul Halley reflects on the changing aspects of the night from dusk until dawn. His improvisational meditation is conducted on the Great Organ at New York City's Cathedral of St John the Divine over five nights of recording.
The name “Nightwatch” comes from a late night meditation program for teens for whom Halley would play meditative improvisations. Halley considered the finished recording "a night-journey" and named it “Nightwatch” "in deference to [his] severest critics."
There are five parts to this night journey: "Sunset/Dusk," "Moon Dance," "Nocturne," "Nightwatch" and "Dawn/Sunrise." Each track is singular in its evocation of mood and image. Halley captures the sunset on the first track, introducing gentle themes that gradually build into the majesty and splendor of the setting sun. The nocturnal pageant continues in "Moon Dance" which spins into a lively dance melody. In contrast, "Nocturne" begins with a sweet haunting tune evoking the stillness and serenity of the middle of the night that still hints of the unknown. The music swells dramatically toward the middle of the track, yet retains its centered quality.
"Nightwatch" begins with stately somber notes on the French horn stop which develop into a gentle melody. The tune grows gradually into a whirling joyful noise which cuts off sharply with the arrival of the dawn. According to the liner notes, "Dawn/Sunrise" "is based on the ancient plainsong melody 'Adoro Te, Devote'" and the music evokes the gradual brightening of the sky before the sun bursts above the horizon.
This is a remarkable recording in that it is completely improvised, no small task under ideal conditions -- "do-overs" are not an option. In addition, the album was recorded at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, a gorgeous space but one which can be a challenge in terms of recording acoustics.
“Nightwatch” is relatively short; the five tracks make up a hair over 38 minutes of music. The length is appropriate, though; Halley knows what he wants to say with his music, and he says it directly and well.
Paul Halley's “Nightwatch” will appeal especially to organ music afficionados, but the music is accessible to and evocative for anyone. Those already familiar with Halley's previous work need no introduction at all.”
- Donna Scanlon
Production (Original 1982)
Recorded at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York, NY
Production (Re-issue1998) by Pelagos
Tom Bates, Digital re-mastering and re-editing
Margaret Race, Executive Producer
Kerry Gavin Studio,
Art Design and Production
Photographs of Paul Halley
by Edward Acker Photography, Great Barrington, MA
Liner notes edited by Elizabeth Martin
Special thanks to
James Parks Morton, Dean
and the Trustees and Chapter
of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine,
© 1982 Paul Halley
© 1998 Pelagos Incorporated
All Rights Reserved
Made in USA