NEW-YORK - Church of the Ascension

Organ, 2 Consoles :

Mechanical console : 3 keyboards, pédalboard - 72 stops

Electric console : 4 keyboards , pédalboard - 97 stops





The goal of this organ was defined, little by little, during the course of conversations with Dennis Keene, titular organist of the new instrument and choirmaster of the Church of the Ascension in New York, and Jon Gillock, organist of international renown and, most recently, author of a book providing an analysis of Olivier Messiaen's organ works.

From the beginning, the intent of this instrument was not to respond to a precise stylistic period, neither neo-classic, neo-symphonic, neo-baroque, etc., but rather it had the intention to lead, in terms of organ building, to a reflection on the best manner possible to perform a large body of music.



This reflexion was nourished by several visits to carefully listen to a number of instruments (St.-Rémy de Provence, the Cathedral of Évreux) and in particular to that of the Église de la Sainte-Trinité in Paris, representing the musical universe of Olivier Messiaen, Jon Gillock having suggested that we listen in detail to multiple combinations of sounds invented by Olivier Messiaen on this organ.

Adhesion to this musical goal was immediate and natural for us because it is a process that is naturally inscribed in the history and evolutiuon of the organ in general.


Composition : Mechanical console


Positive - 61 notes Grand-Organ - 61 notes Solo/Echo - 61 notes Pedal - 32 notes
Quintaton 16' Montre 16' Bourdon 8' Bourdon 32'
Montre 8' Bourdon 16' Flûte d'allemand 4' Bourdon 16'
Bourdon 8' Montre 8' Nazard 2 2/3' Flûte 16'
Flûte conique 8' Bourdon 8' Flûte 2' Principal 16'
Salicional 8' Gambe 8'

Tierce 1 3/5'

Flûte 8'
Prestant 4' Flûte harmonique 8' Basson et Cor anglais 8' Violoncelle 8'
Doublette 2' Grande Quinte 5 1/3' Hautbois 8' Bourdon 8'
Fourniture 4 rangs Grande Tierce 3 1/5' Trompette 8' Grande Quinte 10 2/3'
Cymbale 3 rangs Prestant 4' Voix humaine 8' Grande Tierce 6 2/5'
Flûte conique 4' Flûte octaviante 4' Clarinette 8' Grosse Quinte 5 1/3'
Nazard 2 2/3' Nazard 2 2/3'   Grosse Tierce 3 1/5'
Quarte de Nazard 2' Quinte 2 2/3'   Octave 4'
Tierce 1 3/5' Doublette 2'   Flûte 4'
Larigot 1 1/3' Flûte 2'   Quinzième 2'
Flageolet 1' Grande Fourniture 2 rangs   Plein-jeu 5 rangs
Basson 16' (anches à larmes) Fourniture 4 rangs   Bombarde 32'
Cromorne 8' Cymbale 3 rangs   Bombarde 16'
Trompette 8' Grand Cornet 7 rangs   Basson 16'
Clairon 4' Bombarde 16'   Basson 8'
  1ère Trompette 8'   Trompette 8'
  2ème Trompette 8' en chamade   Clairon 4'
  Clairon 4'    

Couplers : Positive/G.O. - Echo/Positive - Echo/G.O.

Pedal couplers : G.O., Positive, echo - Tremulants G.O., Positive, Echo

Electronic combination action ELTEC






Composition : Console électrique


Grand-Organ - 61 notes Positive - 61 notes Swell - 61 notes Solot/Echo - 61 notes Pedal - 32 notes
Montre 16' Quintaton 16' Bourdon 16' Bourdon 8' Bourdon 32'
Bourdon 16' Montre 8' Principal 8' Flûte d'allemand 4' Bourdon 16'
Montre 8' Bourdon 8' Bourdon 8' Nazard 2 2/3' Bourdon 16' (Récit)
Bourdon 8' Flûte conique 8' Gambe 8' Flûte 2' Flûte 16'
Gambe 8' Salicional 8' Voix céleste 8' Tierce 1 3/5' Principal 16'
Flûte harmonique 8' Prestant 4' Aéoline 8' Basson et Cor anglais 8' Flûte 8'
Grande Quinte 5 1/3' Doublette 2' Aéoline céleste 8' Hautbois 8' Violoncelle 8'
Grande Tierce 3 1/5' Fourniture 4 rangs Flûte harmonique 8' Trompette 8' Bourdon 8'
Prestant 4' Cymbale 3 rangs Flûte octaviante 4' Voix humaine 8' Grande Quinte 10 2/3'
Flûte octaviante 4' Flûte conique 4' Prestant 4' Clarinette 8' Grande Tierce 6 2/5'
Nazard 2 2/3' Nazard 2 2/3' Nazard harmonique 2 2/3'   Grosse Quinte 5 1/3'
Quinte 2 2/3' Quarte de Nazard 2' Tierce harmonique 1 3/5'   Grosse Tierce 3 1/5'
Doublette 2' Tierce 1 3/5' Octavin 2'   Octave 4'
Flûte 2' Larigot 1 1/3' Plein-jeu 5 rangs   Flûte 4'
Grande Fourniture 2 rangs Flageolet 1' SurCymbale 3 rangs   Quinzième 2'
Fourniture 4 rangs Basson 16' (anches à larmes) Basson 16'   Plein-jeu 5 rangs
Cymbale 3 rangs Cromorne 8' Basson-Hautbois 8'   Bombarde 32'
Grand Cornet 7 rangs Trompette 8' Voix humaine 8'   Bombarde 16'
Bombarde 16' Clairon 4' 1ère Trompette harm. 8'   Basson 16'
1ère Trompette 8'   Trompette harm. 8' cham   Basson 8'
Trompette 8' en chamade   Clairon harmonique 4'   Trompette 8'
Clairon 4'       Clairon 4'

Couplers : Pos / GO in 16, 8, 4, Swell / Pos in 16, 8, 4, Swell / GO in 16, 8, 4,

Solo / GO in 16, 8, 4, Solo / Pos in 16, 8, 4.
Pedal couplers : Go in 8 et 4, Pos in 8 et 4, Récit in 8 et 4, Echo in 8 et 4
Tremulants GO, Pos, Récit, Echo

Swell on the right collateral - Expressive Echo - Crescendo
Electronic Combination actionEltec.






















audios recordings :


Olivier Messiaen -Jon Gillock

J.S. Bach, P. Du Mage -Francis Chapelet


In effect, we observe that stylistic mutations are made most often by a progressive adaptation to an original model. That model transforms and evolves in step with the various styles of musical writing appropriate to each epoch: polyphonic, classical, romantic, symphonic, etc. It sometimes even happens that this evolution anticipates the imagination of musicians. That is the case with the instruments of Cavaillé-Coll in which his ideas preceeded the compositions, among others, of César Franck.

The organ, therefore, is in perpetual evolution and the history of the organ of Notre-Dame in Paris is a significant example: a Blockwerk from the Middle Ages was still present in the organ at the beginning of the 17th century, it was transformed by Cavaillé-Coll in the 19th century and, in its present state, it was completed and adapted to the modern techniques of today. All the marks of its evolution are still present, and the history of the French organ is inscribed there.

Organ building, furthermore, is continually subject to foreign influences, such as those of North Germany, Spain, Italy, etc. These also modify traditional practices and in each instance the organ adapts to new musical sensibilities. The experience acquired by organ builders at the time of major historic restorations is, and still remains, absolutely necessary to understand and master the ensemble of the different aesthetics of organ design. This knowledge also permits an approach much more realistic in the design of a new organ voluntarily conceived in opposition to actual historic solutions.

Thus, we have explained the directions from which naturally ensued the general conception of the project: the organ was conceived first of all to be an appropriate instrument for interpreting modern repertoire of the 20th century and that of contemporary music. But, it is principally the music of Olivier Messiaen that was the dominating force in the conception of the whole.

The organ for Messiaen's music, and particularly that of the Église de la Sainte-Trinité in Paris where he was titular organist for numerous years, is an instrument of Cavaillé-Coll modified to include several classical ingredients.

It is principally this type of organ which inspired the composers of the epoch "Neo-Classic", a term considered suspect today because of the numerous and unfortunate transformations of instruments made between the mid-1920s and 1968, sometimes in an irreversible manner, to masterpieces of the French patrimony of historic organs.

This concept of the organ, as badly realized as it was, nevertheless inspired many musicians, one of which was Olivier Messiaen and, in my opinion, it is unthinkable to ignore him. The purpose of this type of instrument, called "neo-classic", was to allow one to interpret a large part of the Classical repertoire. But, that type of instrument is accepted with difficulty today by many organists and European organ builders because we think that it is really possible to propose more logical solutions thanks to knowledge acquired during the course of restorations of an historic character, whether it be instruments of the Renaissance, Classical, Romantic, or Symphonic periods.

And, it is this accumulated historic knowledge that has guided the conception of the organ at the Church of the Ascension. We find here, therefore, classical entities like the plenum, the "jeux de tierces" completely developed, the grand-choeur of reeds on their own chests, a classic disposition of the divisions: Grand-Orgue, Positif, Récit-Écho, Grand-Récit Expressif, "large" and "small" Pédale.

A large part of the "classic" foundation (base) of the organ is found in the case placed to the left of the choir: the Grand-Orgue, Positif, Récit/Écho and an important part of the Pédale. These ensembles are played with a suspended, mechanical action from the console located "en fenêtre" [attached console].


An identical case, facing the first, houses the Grand-Récit Expressif and the remaining pedal stops. The whole organ, which joins the two cases, to the left and right of the choir, with their respective façades facing the side aisles, is played from a numeric console of 4 keyboards, a mobile console that can be placed in the center of the choir for concerts. It is at this console that one interprets most easily the contemporary repertoire or that of the 20th century, which, in general, was not written for direct mechanical action.

The cases were designed to integrate as harmoniously as possible with the architeture of the site. They are constructed of ash and walnut woods. The sculptured decorations are freely inspired by the style "Art Nouveau", an echo of the Tiffany stained glass windows of the church. The key motifs represent imaginary birds, recalling the birdsongs so dear to Olivier Messiaen.


The disposition and details of the instrument:

The organ is divided into two groups situated in the choir of the church, on each side of the high altar. Two 16' façades are therefore facing each other. These two entities also have an opening into the side aisles to the right and left of the choir to which we have applied two cases, one of which is composed of two superimposed 8' façades.

The organ on the left comprises the major part of the instrumental structure: on the main level the Grand-Orgue, the Positif above, the Récit/Écho behind the Positif. The big foundation stops of the Pédale are on the bottom (Bourdons 32' and 16', Contrebasse 16', Flûte 8', Jeux de tierce 32', Bombarde 32', etc.) The whole rises in tiers to almost 43 feet.

The organ on the right is chiefly inhabited by the Récit Expressif of 21 stops; its main façade is formed by the pipes of pedal stops (Principal 16', Violoncelle 8'). Between this façade and the expressive box of the Récit are placed the Bassons 16' and 8', the Plein-jeu, the Octave 4' and the Quinzième 2' of the Pédale. The façade facing the side aisle is made up of the base pipes of the Second 8' of the Grand-orgue. The rest of this stop, as is all of Second 4', is found behind this façade.


The wind chests of the Grand-orgue number four: 2 large chests for 16 stops and 2 others for the 3 reed stops, Bombarde, Trompette, Clairon. The 2nd Trompette (en-chamade) is the first stop on the fondation chest behind the façade.

The configuration is the same for the Positif situated above the Grand-Orgue; the four chests have the same dimensions.

The mechanical action of the keyboards permanently pulls two sets of pallets, one for the foundation stops with pallets longer than one foot, the other, shorter, for the reed stops. To facilitate the opening, the first two octaves of each chest are equipped with a special assist. The touch is supple and responsive for each keyboard. There are two possibilities for coupling the manuals among themselves, either electrical or mechanical.

The pipes are entirely cone tuned in the classic manner. Yet, certain stops have a tuning scroll: the Gambes and Voix céleste, les Æolines, the Second 4' and, of course, the Second 8' of the Grand-Orgue. These two stops, the size of which was given by Cavaillé-Coll, are very strong, especially in the top, and are voiced with open toes. When one plays the registration of all the 8' stops coupled together the "Second 8'" adds an effect of fullness, powerful, strongly crescendoing upwards. Thus, the sound of the organ is centered for the listener located in the nave.

The plenum in two planes, Grand-Orgue and Positif, is founded on the fundamental of the 16', in the French manner, Grande Fourniture with its resultants of 10 2/3', Fourniture, and Cymbale.

The Plein-Jeu of the Récit Expressif is not a part of the configuration of the plenum. Its function is rather to be used with the reeds, which the symphonic character favors. On the other hand, the Sur-Cymbale on this keyboard is of the "neo-classic" type, narrow scale and high-pitched, voiced with low mouths and toes relatively closed. The use of such a stop figures in certain very special registrations of Olivier Messiaen. It is also the typical color of the neo-classical epoch that considered the effect of the plein-jeux as an intense and penetrating light of which the goal was to illuminate the foundations of the organ.


On the other hand, the classic conception interprets the Plein-Jeu, the plenum, as the result of a synthesis of harmonics: one homogenous sonority with its vowel sound perfectly defined.

The reeds stops differentiate themselves in three different ways:

The first: classic, copying the "Dom-Bedos" reeds of the Église Sainte-Croix in Bordeaux, for the reeds of the Grand-Orgue, Positif, and the Trompette, Hautbois, and Voix humaine of the Récit/Écho, with their distinctive reeds made of brass in the form of a "U", 2/3 open.

The second: the Clarinette 8' and the Basson 8' of the Récit/Écho, the Basson 16' of the Positif, with their "tear-drop" reeds, according to the measurements of Cavaillé-Coll, and the Bassons 16' and 8' of the pédale with their rectangular "tear-drop", tin-plated reeds.

The third: the harmonic reeds of the Récit, with their reeds more closed, of the "Bertounèche" type (French craftsman who made the shallots of Cavaillé-Coll's reeds; this little enterprise existed, remaining in productivity, until 1976).


The acoustic of the church, where the reverberation time is about 3 seconds, can appear very short, yet it has the advantage of eliciting no deformation to the sound. The bass has a flawless definition and does not invade the space and the highs sound without any aggressiveness. There are no curved surfaces in the interior architecture that could introduce disturbing reverberation.