November 20, 2017
By Erich Burnett
portrait of David Christie
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones '97

Honor presented by the American Guild of Organists’ New York City Chapter, continues long history of celebrated Oberlin organists.

James David Christie, a 1975 graduate of Oberlin Conservatory and professor of organ since 2001, has been named International Performer of the Year for 2017 by the American Guild of Organists’ New York City Chapter.

Christie received the news in October as he boarded a flight to Europe during Oberlin’s fall break. While there, he taught, performed, and served on juries for international competitions in Italy and Amsterdam.

“Nobody was more shocked than I was. I was getting on a plane and I opened my email for one last time, and it blew me over. I was so excited!” he says, noting the significance of the award.

“New York is the major chapter in the United States. The national organization is headquartered there. New York has the most churches. It has the most organists. Many of the full-time jobs for organists are in New York City—and some of the best jobs are in New York City.”

Founded in 1896, the American Guild of Organists promotes a thriving community of musicians who share a passion for the organ. It serves approximately 15,000 members in more than 300 chapters in America and abroad. Christie will be honored at an AGO event in New York in spring 2018.

Christie is widely regarded as one of the finest organists of his generation. He has performed around the world with symphony orchestras and period instrument ensembles as well as in solo recitals. In 1979, he became the first American to win first prize in the Bruges (Belgium) International Organ Competition—and the first participant to win first prize and the audience prize in the same year.

He has served as organist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra since 1978 and has performed and recorded with the major orchestras of Vienna, London, Stuttgart, Koblentz, Paris, Philadelphia, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, Baltimore, New York, Boston, and others. He has given more than 60 tours of Europe and appears regularly in Canada, Asia, Australia, and Iceland. Over the last two decades, Christie has served regularly on the juries of major international organ competitions throughout the world.

At Oberlin, Christie has been an indefatigable mentor for his students and a staunch supporter of his department colleagues. For winter term in January 2017, Christie, joined by fellow organ faculty member Jonathan Moyer AD ’12 and Curator of Organs David Kazimir ’99, led a dozen Oberlin organ students across Germany and the Netherlands on a tour of 25 important historic instruments spanning four centuries of organ making. The opportunity to hear and play these organs, and to meet the people who know them best, was a transformative experience for students and faculty alike.

Within days of Christie’s AGO accolades, two of his former students earned major honors of their own. Alcee Chriss ’15, MM ’15 won first prize and the Bach Prize in the 2017 Canadian International Organ Competition, and Nicholas Capozzoli ’16, MM ’16 won third prize in the same competition. Both are students in the DMA program at McGill University in Montreal.

Chriss and Capozzoli share a history of excelling in the same competitions: In 2015, Capozzoli won the Taylor Organ Competition in Atlanta and Chriss earned second prize. Both were still Oberlin students at the time.

“They are two of our finest organ graduates ever,” Christie beams.

They do have company, however.

Katelyn Emerson ’15 earned second place in the 2014 Organ Competition Pierre de Manchicourt in France and third place in the VIII Mikael Tariverdiev International Organ Competition in Russia in 2013. In spring 2015, Emerson earned a Fulbright Fellowship to continue her studies in France. The following year, she won first prize in the National Young Artist Competition in Pipe Organ, held by the American Guild of Organists. Also advancing to the finals of that competition were Capozzoli and Kirk Rich ’10, who earned second prize.

Parker Ramsay MM ’15 won first prize in the 2014 Sweelinck International Organ Competition in the Netherlands, and Dexter Kennedy ’12 won the Grand Prix de Chartres 24th International Organ Competition in France that same year.

Chriss and Taylor discussed Christie's tutelage shortly after claiming the top spots at the Taylor Competition.

"I think Jim's students win competitions because he doesn't approach the organ as a technical springboard for showing off," Chriss said.

"Jim teaches us to play how we are," Capozzoli added, "instead of how other people want us to play."

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