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Wayne Foster's return brightens summer memories

Almost Artless in Chucktown: A hopeless classical geek survives another long, dry summer

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Make that figuratively dry — we've had our share of rain lately. But for folks like me, who live and breathe serious music, the precipitous drop in local artistic events right after Spoleto is something of a manic-depressive episode. One day, I'm drowning in it and the next — nada. At first, I'm almost relieved, but then I get to missing all that heady, happy hubbub of trying to take in more world-class music than one pair of ears (or feet) can begin to keep up with. And then we become a musical ghost town: the Symphony disbands for the summer, and the stable of trusty music students from the college who perform in my Sunday concert series at Millennium leave town, scattering to various other festivals, music camps, or assorted foreign gigs, leaving me bereft of my live classical fixes for a couple of months. Sure, I still get to sing some good stuff in church on Sundays, but all I have left otherwise are NPR, the record store's stock, and my personal 5,000-CD classical collection.

Occasionally, something pops up to enliven my artistic ennui and give me the strength to hang on 'til September and a new season. This summer, my salvation was the late-June return visit (after nearly two years away) of Wayne Foster, perhaps the finest organ (and harpsichord) virtuoso to ever live and work in Charleston. He spent quite a spell first as artist-in-residence and then as organist/director of music at First (Scots) Presbyterian Church. To boot, he was Charleston's most ecumenical organist, serving as music director at Temple Beth Elohim Synagogue.

For a while, he appeared to be settling into Charleston for the long haul, working his way ever-deeper into local musical life. He founded the Orchestra of St. Clair, one of Charleston's first ensembles to specialize in music of the Baroque era. And for two precious years, he played harpsichord with the Windhover Ensemble, our pioneering (and short-lived) original-instruments chamber ensemble. We should've known we'd never keep him.

All along, he remained a touring concert organist, bolstering his international reputation (they love him in France) as one of the finest organists of his generation. So when the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles — home to one of the world's largest pipe organs — came calling, Wayne made the agonized decision to accept what's got to be one of America's handful of top organ posts. We've missed him fiercely ever since.

His recital on June 28 — on First Scots' fabulous instrument — was a blessed event, reminding the lucky (and jam-packed) congregation of its recent glory days when he played there every Sunday. Nobody I've ever heard plays the organ — often a mushy-sounding instrument — with Wayne's level of clarity, precision, and dynamic subtlety. We got items from modern masters like Robert Stern, Bruce Neswick, and Brian Sawyers, on top of more traditional masterpieces from Dietrich Buxtehude (one of Bach's major inspirations) and French organ "symphonist" Alexandre Guilmant.

It was great to hear him and talk to him afterwards. His glorious playing did much to keep me going until our imminent regular season commences in the coming weeks, and I'm again able to satisfy my pernicious addiction to great music on a regular basis. It won't be long now.

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