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Kent Tritle, an audience favorite at the Smithfield Church, performed in recital on Saturday, Sept. 9, on the historic Johnson and Son tracker organ. Photo by Leila Hawken

Kent Tritle connects with his audience at the Smithfield Church

AMENIA — Bringing talent, natural musicality and engaging personality to perform in recital for the 11th time at the Smithfield Church on Saturday, Sept. 9, organist Kent Tritle captivated his audience and remained to spend time in conversation during the reception that followed.

The full proceeds of the recital would benefit the Oratorio Society of New York, which is celebrating 150 years of singing this year and is one of the performing organizations directed and conducted by Tritle. He also conducts the professional chorale Musica Sacra and serves as the organist for the New York Philharmonic and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. He is also a faculty member in the graduate program at The Juilliard School.

 The Tritle annual recital was on hiatus during the pandemic, but it returned with gusto this month. This performance included works by Buxtehude, Bach and contemporary composer Charles Coleman, each carefully selected and explicated in turn. To accomplish that, Tritle bounded from the Johnson and Son tracker organ at the rear of the church to the 1866 Steinway grand at the front of the church to play key themes and patterns to listen for. Then, back to the organ, having prepared the audience for what was to come.

Smithfield’s pastor Douglas Grandgeorge had let the audience know in advance that the year 1866 was the first year that Steinways were built under that name, the company having just changed its name from Steinweg to Steinway, in a move to increase sales.

“It just goes and goes and goes,” said Tritle of one of the several Bach selections.

The 1893 organ also touts its own history as an Opus 796, two manual, seven-stop instrument, installed in the Smithfield Church in 2010, in a hand-crafted setting to match the historic architecture. The organ previously served the First Congregational Church in Kent, Connecticut.

As the reception wound down, Tritle paused for an interview to discuss the recital experience and the relationship between the performer and his audience, with many having praised the educational aspects built into the performance.

“I love the way you talk to the audience,” interjected Laura Evans, an audience member who drove up from New York City. “You talk to them,” she repeated.

“People had a sense of enjoyment, a connection with the music,” Tritle said, noting the recital’s intimacy where he and the audience members can talk. A live performance, he felt, encourages that dialogue, aligning with the familiar silent dialogue performers experience while performing. 

“Things happen with energies,” Tritle said of live performance. “Heartbeats become uniform.”

“I hope they will leave feeling they had heard something and that they connected,” Tritle said of his audience.

The subject turned seamlessly to artificial intelligence (AI) and music. “AI lacks spontaneity; the sense of the room,” said Tritle, acknowledging that there will be great applications and future benefits to society.

“But it won’t replace live performances or audiences,” he added with certainty.

Asked about his earliest years, Tritle said, “I come from a musical family,” recalling that he and his parents regularly sang around the piano. Both parents were accomplished musicians. One day, his father surprised his mother with the delivery of a home organ, when Tritle was about 9.

“I was so smitten with the organ,” Tritle said, suggesting that his mother got very little time with it.

“It started at home,” he said.

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