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Overture Concert Organ
Madison Symphony Chorus
Hamburg Steinway Piano
Photo by Bob Rashid

  • The organ was commissioned and is owned by the Madison Symphony Orchestra.
  • The organ was built by the German firm of Orgelbau Klais, a fourth-generation family-owned enterprise. All parts of the organ were handcrated in the Orgelbau Klais workshop in Bonn, Germany.
  • The Organ has 63 stops; 72 ranks; 4,040 pipes (3,779 metal and 261 wooden). The tallest pipe is 32 feet high. The biggest pipe weighs about 1,212 lbs.
  • The Organ is an engineering marvel: it is installed in a movable organ chamber, designed by Theatre Project Consultants in conjunction with the acoustical firm of Kirkegaard Associates. The instrument and chamber together weigh 174 tons and move forward for Madison Symphony performances on 16 steel wheels on four steel rails, powered by a push chain drive. It is believed to be the heaviest movable object in any theater in the world. No other organ in the world moves in this fashion.
  • The Organ moves about 1 foot per minute. It takes approximately 30 minutes for the organ to move into place for symphony concerts.
  • The Organ is the backdrop for the Symphony at all MSO concerts (even when the organ is not used in the concert, it forms the back of the "acoustical shell" for the orchestra). When not in use, the organ is stored in a "garage" at the back of the stage.
  • The Organ has three manuals (keyboards), each one with 61 keys. The pedal board has 32 pedals (notes).
  • The materials used include a variety of timber (fir, oak, beech and cedar), metals (tin and lead alloy, brass and steel), in addition to bone and ebony.
  • Timber is dried for a period of 6-10 years by the organ-building firm of Orgelbau Klais before being used to build the organ.
  • The movable organ chamber is 70' x 16' x 48' high and it provides provides 54' x 14' x 24' high internal space for the organ).
  • The movable organ chamber constructed with honeycomb wall surfaces specially designed for their acoustical properties.
  • The Organ took 2 years, 9 months to build from start to finish.
  • The project was made possible through an unprecedented $2.95 million in private contributions to the MSO. The instrument itself was funded by a $1.1 million gift from the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation. Organ programming and education programs are endowed by a $1 million gift from Diane Endres Ballweg. A $500,000 gift has endowed the Wayne Curtis & Maybelle Slavens Hall and Francis Vincent & Lettie von Kalweit Dunnebacke Organ Curator position. The Organ Fund also received two additional anonymous gifts of $250,000 and $100,000.
  • The disassembled organ was packed in 40'-long wooden shipping crates and arrived by sea in North America in Montreal in mid-March, 2004. It was then driven in 5 semi trucks to Madison for reassembly and installation.
  • Orgelbau Klais employed a team of workers who were in Madison over the spring/summer 2004 to unpack and install the organ and to voice and tune the instrument.
  • Workers carefully voiced and tuned each of the organ's 4,040 pipes. Voicing is a technical and artistic process where each pipe is adjusted to speak beautifully as a solo stop and to blend with the other pipes. Tuning is the process by which each pipe is given its precise pitch.
  • Voicing and tuning take several months, and the process must take place in an environment free of noise, dust and reverberations from construction.
  • Designed specifically to complement the acoustical, musical and architectural features of Overture Hall.