The WFMT Bach Organ Project Is No Longer Just a Pipe Dream, Thanks to Steve Robinson and Organist Stephen Alltop

By Louise Burton on Sep 20, 2014 12:43 AM EDT

About five years ago, Steve Robinson, general manager of 98.7 WFMT in Chicago, had the idea to organize a concert series of J.S. Bach's complete works for solo organ, about 256 works in total.

During a phone interview earlier today, Robinson said "I've always loved this body of work. I've listened to these pieces many, many times, different recordings for many years. There are not many other bodies of work that I think are as profound and deep and spiritual and beautiful as these."

For a variety of reasons, the project never got off the ground. But then Robinson met Stephen Alltop, who is director of music for Alice Millar Chapel at Northwestern University and well-known throughout the Chicago area as an organist, harpsichordist and conductor.

Alltop was able to use his connections as an organist, teacher and concert organizer to help bring Robinson's pipe dream to life. The WFMT Bach Organ Project, which launches this Sunday, will feature Alltop and other prominent organists including David Schrader, Nathan Laube, Bruce Barber and Michael Costello.

All together, a total of 40 organists will take part in the Herculean task of playing all 256 of Bach's solo organ works, on the magnificent organs of nine churches and chapels throughout the Chicago area. The 10-concert series begins September 21 and runs through October 26.

"It's this great team effort," Alltop told me, speaking from his office at Alice Millar Chapel on the Northwestern University campus. He said that most of the participating organists hold church positions or are teachers in the Chicago area.

"We also have students involved from several universities, who are playing the chorale prelude project," he said. Every concert will open with a chorale prelude mini-recital.

According to Alltop, such a concert series has not been attempted before in Chicago.

"This is a one-time undertaking for the city of Chicago; I think that's what makes it pretty historic," he said. "People have done the complete Bach organ works before, probably also in this tag-team type of way... and I've known individuals who have done it.

"But to do it this way, spread all around this great city, in all different venues, that's what I think makes it really special," he said. The first concert will be held at St. Clements Catholic Church in Chicago on September 21. Venues range as far north as the Winnetka Congregational Church, as far south as Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago, and as far west as Oak Park and River Forest.

Robinson said the concerts will be recorded by WFMT for possible broadcast in the future. More information about this 10-concert series is available at

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TagsWFMT Bach Organ Project, WFMT, Stephen Alltop, Steve Robinson, Alice Millar Chapel, Bach

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