Free concert series at Second Presbyterian to showcase beloved organ music


PORTSMOUTH—An upcoming concert series at Second Presbyterian Church will showcase the work of one of history’s most revered organists while raising money to maintain and repair “Ma Kilgen,” Second Presbyterian’s beloved pipe organ.

The three-night concert series at Second Presbyterian will celebrate the work of Cesar Franck, one of history’s most renowned organists and composers. Active in the 1800s, this year marks what would have been Franck’s 200th birthday.

From July 29-31 beginning at 7 p.m. each night, the public will be able to enjoy a free concert series of Franck’s “greatest hits” from an cadre of celebrated organists who live in or hail from the local region.

Dr. Stanley Workman, Jr., Director of Music at Second Presbyterian, is eager to bring the exciting, free concert series to the community. For Workman, bringing Franck’s work to the public in this manner has always been a dream.

While there is no admission cost for the event, donations will be accepted for the care and maintenance of Ma Kilgen—an expense which according to Workman’s estimation, can total around $125,000 for the major repairs needed every 30 years with smaller repairs needed in between.

“For organists, [Franck] is considered one of the giants,” Workman explained. “He’s considered by many to be the second greatest composer of organ music next to J. S. Bach. Nowadays, people who don’t know a lot about music might know ‘Panis Angelicus,’ which is a Catholic song that you hear a lot around Christmastime. That is what most people probably know him for.”

Franck’s iconic reputation hinges on twelve major works of organ music. Workman knew that a concert series showcasing those works could bring the opportunity for a diverse series of musicians and interpretations of Franck’s pieces.

“I came up with this idea of having a series of concerts that would feature all twelve of these major works. So we are having—Friday to Sunday—a concert each night. Each night will feature four different works, and will feature four different organists,” Workman said.

The concept for the upcoming “Franck-A-Thon” emerged from Workman’s passion, and by reaching out to a number of diverse and accomplished musicians, the lineup quickly solidified. Joining Workman as featured organists are Dr. Douglas Leightenheimer, a Portsmouth native who studied under the same organ teacher as Workman; Dr. Jeremiah Martin, a thoracic surgeon at SOMC who originally hails from Ireland; and Matt Bickett, an accomplished student in the Sacred Music program at Yale.

“We sort of knew that we could round up all of these organists because of the summer schedule. It would be very labor intensive for one person or even two people—but to have four very qualified organists makes it perfect: One piece [each] per evening,” Workman said.

Standing in the sanctuary of Second Presbyterian, it’s clear that the full, booming tones from the pipes of Ma Kilgen are something that must be experienced rather than simply described. As much a part of the church as the stained-glass windows or the foundation itself, the pipe organ too is a fixture of the community.

And Workman knows that by opening the doors for the Franck-a-Thon, the public will be able to share in the appreciation for Franck’s legacy, for organ music, and for Second Presbyterian’s own Ma Kilgen. He hopes that those who attend will come for each night of the series to experience a profound finale featuring one of Franck’s three most famous chorales composed in the last year of his life.

“Each concert will end with one of three of [Franck’s] last-years pieces, and they are really considered the towering spires of his work. The three chorales tend to be a little more gigantic,” Workman said with a chuckle.

The Franck-a-Thon will take place from July 29th-July 31st at 7 p.m. each night at Second Presbyterian Church, located at 801 Waller Street in Portsmouth.

For more information and updates on the Franck-a-Thon or the happenings at Second Presbyterian, visit their website at: The concert series will also stream live on Second Presbyterian’s YouTube channel.

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