MW: You mentioned Leonard Bernstein, who was clearly an influence though he wasn’t an organist. How much have famous organists of the past influenced you? How much are you trying to carry on their legacy?
CARPENTER: I’m not interested in carrying on any legacy of organists of the past. It wouldn’t be for me to say to what degree I’ve been influenced. But I consider myself not to have been influenced. And lest that seem an arrogant statement, the reason I say that is that for my entire life my instinct has been somewhat, not to isolate myself, but to be apart from the organ community.
There’s often thought to be a certain value to have a certain degree of removal from the community within which you’re working, so that you are always sure to maintain an artistic independence from what others are doing. In the case of the organ, I think that’s incredibly important, partly because so much of what is regarded as ”traditional” in the organ, just as in classical music, what we really mean is the 1950s. And it really remains the 1950s to some degree that other organists seem to idolize. To me that’s a somewhat repellant thing. I really don’t need to hear anything more about Virgil Fox’s audiences, when you stop to remember that most of Virgil Fox’s audiences probably were as racially diverse as a loaf of white bread. Let alone the tales of the great organists like Edwin Lemare from the 1910s and ’20s, who played for massive audiences at the World’s Fair and so on. Massive audiences that again included remarkably few women — women who wouldn’t have been able to vote. Gay men who wouldn’t have been able to express themselves in public. And so on and so on. All the desultory details.
Again, there’s so much about the organ and the organ community that really is looking to the past. I find that a kind of love affair with death. The idea of traditions that seem to be conventionally held quite dear have almost nothing to do with the factitive of 200 years ago. They have to do with how music of 200 years ago was interpreted in the 1950s and ’60s, and this is completely uninteresting.
Carpenter also talks in the interview about creating a digital organ with which he can tour.