On the eve of our first concert of the 2016/17 season, we chatted to our talented new accompanist, Käthe Wright Kaufman – the current Organ Scholar of Truro Cathedral – to see what she thinks of the show so far and to find out more about her.
Originally from Evanston, Illinois, a city just north of Chicago, 23-year-old Käthe started learning the piano at the age of four and has pursued her organ studies since 2007. During that time she has been taught by the virtuoso organists James R Brown of the Music Institute of Chicago, and William Porter and Edoardo Bellotti of the Eastman School of Music, and has participated in masterclasses with the premier concert organists Ann Elise Smoot, David Higgs and Alan Morrison. She has performed for the US radio programme Pipedreams Live! and in venues such as St Thomas Church, New York City, and – as part of a recital tour this summer – Clare College, Cambridge, St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds and St Michael’s Cornhill, London. This whistle-stop trip to the UK meant getting to know the pedals, pipes and stops of unfamiliar organs and playing a complete programme within hours of arriving at a venue. However, her audition with Christopher Gray for the position at Truro Cathedral took place back in the US – via Skype!
Prior to arriving in Cornwall, Käthe studied at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, where in 2013 she received the Gerald Barnes Award for Excellence in Pipe Organ. She graduated earlier this year with high distinction. Other accolades include receiving the VanDelinder Prize in Liturgical Organ Skills from Christ Church, Rochester, in both 2014 and 2015, and winning the West Chester University International Organ Competition in 2015.
As someone who clearly doesn’t seek a quiet life, Käthe has also previously held the positions of Organ Scholar at Christ Church, Rochester, and Westminster Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, NY. At the latter she accompanied a similar-sized choir to Truro Choral Society, though the markedly different timing of rehearsals there called for her alarm clock to be set for 5.45am (don’t get any ideas, MDP). And it has been unsurprising to discover that, on top of all these achievements, Käthe is also an accomplished choral soprano, having performed with choirs around America, England and Germany. Even in her personal life, music is omnipresent: her boyfriend is the fifth generation of a family of organ builders whose business is based not far from Rochester – very helpful in times when urgent tuning has been needed.
Here in Truro, her role at the Cathedral naturally keeps her very busy beyond our increasingly wintry Tuesday-night rehearsals. Music for the Cathedral choir needs to be organised and distributed before run-throughs and services. Meanwhile, her duties mentoring the probationary choristers at Polwhele House school mean early mornings for her most weekdays – her guidance with basic theory will help them gain their surplices in the spring. Of course, somewhere amid all this, she needs to fit in time for playing herself: so far, the hours after 9pm seem most appealing, when there are no noise restrictions and time seems to slip by. She is also a member of St Mary’s Singers, the voluntary chamber choir of the Cathedral.
When talk turns to Käthe’s favourite composers, Bach unsurprisingly gets the top spot – her recitals at the Cathedral and Truro Methodist Church in October bore impressive witness to this, with audience members commenting that they were “blown away” by her performances. Bartok also gets a mention, though, and in a nod to her new UK position, Standford, Howells and Britten all feature highly. This term’s Puccini rehearsals have brought enjoyment, too – Käthe mentions the Messa di Gloria’s satisfying melodies and how she is looking forward to accompanying us on the chamber organ when we sing it on Saturday.
Käthe will be returning to the US in 2017 for the start of the next academic year – a deferred master’s in organ performance awaits her at Eastman. Before then, we will be fortunate enough to have her accompany us for our rehearsals for our New Year concert, Bach’s St Matthew Passion and our joint concert with Three Spires Singers, Mendelssohn’s Elijah. If you’re not a TCS member, do make sure you get to hear her play before she goes, too.