Just a little over a week ago I met James in Vilnius where he for the first time in Lithuania performed music from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland as well Faroe and Åland islands on the largest pipe organ in Lithuania - Vilnius University St. John's church. His recital extremely well received by the listeners - many of them told they loved it to our security guard.
Prior to that, James performed a recital of Finish music on the world-famous Walcker organ at the cathedral in Riga, Latvia.
Although James spent just a weekend in Lithuania, it was enough to inspire him get to know more about the Baltic culture and perhaps to perform and record a CD of the Baltic organ music in the not too distant future.
James lives and works out of Bernardsville, NJ, USA, and holds degrees in music from the Peabody Institute of Music, Yale University and the University of Cincinnati. Other studies include instruction at the Royal School of Church Music in England. He is an Associate of the American Guild of Organists. Hicks held liturgical positions throughout the eastern United States, and in 2011 retired after twenty‐six years of service at The Presbyterian Church in Morristown, New Jersey.
James has performed throughout the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe. Most recently, he appeared as a soloist at the 2016 Åland Orgel Festival, Mariehamn, Finland. Other performances include a concert devoted exclusively to works that Hicks has commissioned at the 2015 Organo Novo Festival in Helsinki, Finland. In the summer of 2015, he participated in The International Organ Summer, held at the Hallgrimskirkja, Reykjavik, Iceland, and as a part of Summartónar in the Faroe Islands. James was a featured guest on Pipedreams, a nationally syndicated broadcast devoted to the music of the pipe organ in 2014. Michael Barone, the host of Pipedreams devoted the entirety of this program (Pipedreams # 1438) to James’ Nordic Journey series. In July 2013 he performed in several organ series in Finland, including the Helsinki Organ Summer and the Turku Summer Festival. He played for Swedish National Radio in March 2012, a broadcast that included world premieres of several modern works from that country.
James has recorded seven collections of organ music on the American Pro Organo label. The first, 2003’s American Classic, highlights the rebuilt Austin organ at The Presbyterian Church in Morristown, New Jersey, and contains many recorded premieres of twentieth and twenty‐first century American works, including two original compositions. Hicks traveled to Sweden in 2010 to record a double cd (Nordic Journey ‐ Pro Organo #7239) of Nordic works on the historic Setterquist organ at Linköping Cathedral. This collection includes many unusual works from Nordic lands and a commissioned composition, Variations, by Swedish composer Fredrik Sixten. Hicks recorded three separate cds of Nordic music at the following Swedish venues in August 2013: St. Johannes’ Church, Malmo (Nordic Journey, Volume II, Pro Organo #7262), Skara Cathedral (Nordic Journey, Volume III, Pro Organo #7263), and Västerås Cathedral (Nordic Journey, Volume IV, Pro Organo #7264). These discs include several commissioned works and the first modern recorded performances of many unpublished, hitherto unknown, compositions from the romantic and modern periods. The fifth volume of the Nordic Journey series was recorded in April of 2015, a double cd produced at the Swedish venue Kalmar Cathedral, the premiere production from that venue and released in September of the same year. Volume VI was recorded at Turku Cathedral and St. Michael’s Church, Turku, Finland in June, 2016, and is a double disc devoted to the music from that country. Future volumes are in the planning stages, utilizing locations in Norway and Iceland during 2017 and 2018.
James sent me a message with the detailed answer of how did he became interested in the Nordic organ music which I would like to share with you in full bellow.
"People ask me this question a lot, especially those who live in my country. The long version is that during my student years, I felt a special relationship with the orchestral and chamber music of composers such as Sibelius, Nielsen, and, to a lesser extent, Grieg. I think it was the dark, brooding sounds, occasional link to Nordic folk music, and affinity for compelling themes that somehow drew me into this way of making music. When I hear the music of Sibelius, I can't help but imagine endless forests and lakes. Being someone who does a lot of hiking and who actually likes cold weather, I somehow gravitate to this sort of thing.
"Most of my family is Scottish and English so I can't claim any Scandinavian ancestry (although, of course, the Viking settled in Orkney, Shetland, and other parts of Scotland). When I was twenty, I learned about the Carl Nielsen Commotio from a recording and I had to learn it right away. That piece was sort of a gateway. The Sonata in G minor by Lindberg was another, and inspired me even more.
"It wasn't, however, until about ten years or so ago, that I started asking respected colleagues in the USA what they knew about Nordic organ music. I also asked groups such as the Organ Historical Society. Even very expert people in the field had no idea of the organ repertoire from this part of the world, so that got me curious.
"It is my experience that musicians still often play endless programs by the "masters", rather than looking at what else might be out there. Spending years on the internet, consulting libraries, publisher's listings, and the Henderson Encyclopedia of Organ Music, not to mention the beginning of meeting composers such as the Swedish musician Fredrik Sixten, made me want to record a CD.
"After these years of research, I made the first Nordic Journey double cd in Sweden at Linköping Cathedral in 2010. It was meant as a "one-off project" before moving on to other things. Over these years, I started playing concerts throughout Sweden, and, then, later all of the other Nordic lands. After having this chance to learn more about the cultures of these countries, I was really hooked.
"I retired early from church music five years ago after a thirty-five year career. All of my kids were now adults, and so I decided to really pursue this study full time. Having this extra time made it possible to record three CDs at once in 2013 at locations in Sweden (vols. II, III, IV), and then at Kalmar in 2015. I just recorded in Finland this past summer and so Vol. VI will be released by chance on October 1 when I play for your community.
"Volume VII in 2017 takes me to Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway and in 2018 to Iceland at the Hallgrimmikirkja in the capitol. I fully intend to continue after that, hopefully with another project in Finland and another in Denmark.
"As it has evolved, the mission of Nordic Journey has become three-fold: the creation of new music (fifteen new works thus far), the rediscovery of forgotten and/or unpublished works from the early 20th century, and, finally, the inclusion of some of the mainstream masterworks.
"A further step I am now taking is discussing with a Swedish publisher is the creation of a "Nordic Journey Series" in which the works that have been written for me and have no publisher could see publication and be made available to other musicians. This is the official story as it occurs to me.
"As I said, few people really understand why I would do this project. In the end, none of us can really explain our passion for music. We just know that we have no choice but to include it as a central fact in our lives, regardless of whether anyone else cares or not. When I heard your fantastic improvisation, I recognized someone who understands passion and total commitment so I think you will get a lot of what I am trying to express."
In this conversation, James talks about his passion for Nordic Journey project.
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