Balboa Park Annual International Summer Organ Festival

Spreckels Organ Society Revives Annual International Summer Organ Festival

Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park

Photo by Ine Tours

Grab your family and friends to enjoy the wonderful sounds of the famous Spreckels pipe organ every Monday night this summer at the 2016 International Summer Organ Festival! The festival, put on by Spreckels Organ Society, begins June 27th and runs until August 29th, with each concert at 7:30pm at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park.

The festival kicks off with Robert Plimpton, formerly the resident organist of the First United Methodist Church of San Diego, playing with the Marine Band San Diego. This concert will follow Bach's Supper Monday, an annual fundraiser for the Pavilion. The Supper will be held on the lawn across the street from the Pavilion and will serve drinks (beer donated by Mike Hess Brewing) and food catered by Lefty's.

Dave Wickerham, who is mostly an organist for churches and theatres, takes on the July 4th show. What better way to spend the national holiday than by enjoying music at a historical landmark? Wickerham was the American Theatre Organ Society's "Organist of the Year" in 2009. On July 11th, Christoph Bull brings his unique touch on the organ to the stage. Bull is not only a concert organist, but he is a composer, organist, and organ professor at UCLA, and he is also an organist at the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, home to the world's largest pipe organ. Also performing is Daryl Robinson (July 18), Alison Luedecke (July 25), Kevin Bowyer (August 1), Justin Bischof (August 8), David Ball (August 15), Tom Trenney (August 22), and Carol Williams with Aaron David Miller (August 29). Carol Williams is not only the San Diego Civic Organist, but she has been the Artistic Director of the Spreckels Organ Society since 2001. She was the first woman in the United States to be appointed as Civic Organist.

The Spreckels Organ Pavilion holds free concerts every Sunday at 2pm; these concerts are sponsored by the San Diego Parks & Recreation Department, the Spreckels Organ Society, and private donations. The Spreckels Organ Society is a nonprofit created in 1988 to preserve the Spreckels Organ for everyone to enjoy.

The Organ Pavilion holds an incredible amount of history. In 1914, sons of a sugar magnate John D. and Adolph B. Spreckels gifted the organ Pavilion to the San Diego community. They also donated $33,500 (equivalent to $792k today) for the organ, and $66,500 (equivalent to $1.5 million today) for the Pavilion. In 1915, the Pavilion had former president Theodore Roosevelt give a speech about world peace. Later, in 1915, former president William Taft also stopped by the Pavilion to give a speech. From 1942 to 1948, organ concerts were not held due to the Navy borrowing Balboa Park during World War II for barracks and training grounds. In the early 1980s, about $1.1 million was raised to repair the almost demolished Pavilion after it went into disuse in the 1970s. When the restoration was complete, the International Summer Organ Festival was introduced in 1986.

Balboa Park is the 1,200-acre home to many museums, gardens, attractions, and venues. In 1868, Balboa was originally known as City Park, which was a whopping 1400 acres. The park needed a bit of a boost, so in 1892, Kate Sessions offered to plant 100 trees a year, along with donated trees and shrubs, in exchange for 32 acres of land within the park. Many of her trees are still alive and well in the park today. Sessions eventually earned the name, "The Mother of Balboa Park" at the California Pacific International Exposition in 1935. Balboa Park only increased in beauty and amazement from there, with its enriching arts and culture scene. If you find yourself at a loss of what to do during the summer, take a visit to Balboa Park, as you will never run out of sights to see. 

Tickets for the Organ festival are free, as are all concerts held at the Pavilion, but if you are interested in ways you can become a member of the Spreckels Organ Society to help fund events around this historical landmark, visit Spreckels Organ Society. With a membership, you can receive a 10% off at the gift shop, invitations to members-only events, close-up volunteer opportunities, and support for musical programming and educational scholarships. 

If you can’t make it to a concert but would still love to watch, the Society websites offers a livestream link for people all over the world to enjoy.