A New Orleans 'High Art Bacchanal'

Albinas Prizgintas plays the organ at the Trinity Episcopal Church.

Albinas Prizgintas plays the organ at the Trinity Episcopal Church. Amy Walters, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Amy Walters, NPR

Amy Walters sends an audio postcard from New Orleans, where she recently attended a 29-hour "high art bacchanal" — a Bach/Shakespeare festival.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

We wrap things up tonight with a look at how nightlife has returned to the Crescent City. You can hear Kermit Ruffins and the Barbeque Swingers, the New Orleans Jazz Vipers, and then there's the Bach Around the Clock Festival, 29 hours of Bach and music influenced by him with some Shakespeare readings thrown in. NPR's Amy Walters tested her endurance to find out what high art sounds like in New Orleans.

AMY WALTERS reporting:

New Orleans is a city of musicians and characters. Albinas Prizgintas is both. He's organist and music director at Trinity Episcopal Church in the garden district and he has very irregular sleeping patterns. There's nothing he loves more than creeping into church at three or four in the morning, alone in the dark to play Bach. But sometimes he craves company. So the 29 hour Bach Around the Clock was born.

Mr. ALBINAS PRIZGINTAS (Organist): Everybody plays the piano in New Orleans. Or sings or plays an instrument, so I knew it would be a piece of cake to get this place really rocking with Bach.

WALTERS: This year, some musicians were displaced by the hurricane, so new performers came from Indiana, Arizona and Japan. St. Thomas' men and boys choir came from New York City to start the show.

(Soundbite of choir music)

WALTERS: Prizgintas plays organ, piano and harpsichord, providing accompaniment for most of the festival. After playing Bach his entire life, he says he still doesn't understand the music but he appreciates it.

Mr. PRIZGINTAS: The fact of the matter is that Bach influenced just about every composer that came after him, so we decided to include Mozart, Grieg, Handel, Vivaldi, Scarlatti, rhythm and blues, gospel music, jazz, every kind of possible music, because it's all Bach.

WALTERS: But the festival did move beyond Bach.

(Soundbite of choir music)

WALTERS: Xavier University performed Hayden's Lord Nelson Mass.

As the clock ticks past midnight, the offerings go way past Bach to spirituals, roots music, and guitarist Richard Bienvenue(ph) strumming Sufi tunes.

(Soundbite of Richard Bienvenue singing)

WALTERS: Even this range can't satisfy Prizgintas' artistic appetite. He's added a simultaneous Shakespeare Festival to his high art bacchanal. Local Shakespeare enthusiast Orlan Corey(ph) turned up to read his favorite sonnet.

Mr. ORLAN COREY (Shakespeare Enthusiast): 138. When my love swears that she's made of truth, I do believe her, though I know she lies...

WALTERS: As the hours wear on, the diminishing audience gets cozy in blankets and sleeping bags they've brought along, but not Prizgintas.

Did you take a nap yet?

Mr. PRIZGINTAS: Well, I think so, you know. It was like, I think I just kind of went someplace.

WALTERS: But not for long. At 11:45 Saturday night, Prizgintas was pulling out all the stops on his closing piece.

(Soundbite of organ music)

WALTERS: He made sure everyone else was awake, too.

Amy Walters, NPR News, New Orleans.

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