As Portland’s municipal organist for the last 27 years, Ray Cornils has taught thousands of people about the power of the mighty Kotzschmar Organ.

He’s demonstrated the incredible range of its 7,101 pipes by playing it, and he’s explored its 105-year-history hundreds of times through pre-concert lectures and with periodic organ tours.

But the whole time Cornils was teaching Mainers about their treasured Kotzschmar Organ, the impressive instrument has been teaching him. He hopes to show what’s he learned Aug. 22 when he performs his last summer concert on the Kotzschmar before retiring. Cornils’ performance will be the finale of Orgelfest17, the annual concert series featuring organists from all over the country taking their turns on the Kotzschmar.

“It’s such a creative instrument, and it’s enticed me over the years to work with all the colors and possibilities it offers. For this concert, I’ll try to put on display some of the things I’ve learned,” said Cornils, 61, of Woolwich. “Its sounds range from the faintest whisper to a heroic roar. So even when I play something I’ve played before, it can sound new.”

Cornils said he’s not sure yet what he’ll play during the concert, though the playlist likely will include some Bach and a piece called “For All the Saints” by John Weaver, an organist and educator whose resume includes being chair of the organ department at the Juilliard School in New York City. Weaver traveled to Maine each summer between 1957 and 2007 to play the Kotzschmar during the summer series. The piece is a combination of the jazzy “When the Saints Go Marching In” and church music, Cornils said. He also hopes to play some songs he has not played since the organ was reconstructed in 2014.

The annual Orgelfest draws organists from all over the country to Portland each summer. Other performers scheduled to play the Kotzschmar Organ during this year’s Orgelfest include Monica Czausz, organist at Christ Church Episcopal Cathedral in Houston, Texas, on Aug. 1; Richard Elliott, organist at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Aug. 8: and Nathan Avakian, New York-based organist and theater lighting designer, on Aug. 15.


On Aug. 12 the organ itself will be the star, during Kotzschmar Organ Day, when people can take free tours of the organ and its pipes at Merrill Auditorium.

The summer concert series focusing on the Kotzschmar began soon after it was installed in Portland’s City Hall Auditorium, in 1912. It’s been called Orgelfest (orgel is German for organ) since a $2.6 million reconstruction of the instrument was finished in 2014.

The organ is named for Hermann Kotzschmar, a German native who lived in Portland from 1849 until his death in 1908 and became one of Maine’s best known musicians. The organ was a gift to the city from publishing magnate Cyrus H.K. Curtis, a longtime friend of Kotzschmar’s.

Cornils is one of just two municipal organists in the country, with the other being in San Diego. He is the 10th person to hold the position in Portland. Cornils, who also serves as minister of music at First Parish Church in Brunswick, announced last summer that he’d retire at the end of 2017. His last concert as municipal organist will be his annual holiday concert, “Christmas with Cornils.” The nonprofit Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ is searching for a new municipal organist and the group hopes to announce the new person sometime this fall.

Before his Orgelfest17 performance, Cornils will give a talk in the rehearsal hall. He’ll talk about how the organ works and what makes it special. He’ll also talk about his years of experience in a very rare kind of job. And he’ll answer questions.

“Over the years, I’ve been able to get to know both this instrument and the people of Portland,” said Cornils. “Watching how they respond to the organ has been a real joy for me.”




Some people say classical music is freeing: It frees the mind, frees the soul. At the Bowdoin International Music Festival, much of the music itself is free. The festival, founded in 1964, includes some 80 free events throughout the summer. There’s the Gamper Festival of Contemporary Music, the Young Artists Series featuring festival students, the Festival Insights series featuring lectures and performances, and Community Concerts held in local breweries, libraries and other locations. Other concerts offer world-renowned musicians, including members of the Jupiter Quarter and the Ying Quartet.

Bowdoin International Music Festival, June 24-Aug. 5, $45 for subscription concerts, at two main venues: Studzinski Recital Hall at Bowdoin College, 12 Campus Road South, Brunswick; and Brunswick High School’s Crooker Theater, 116 Maquoit Road.


Bach, beer and bowling? In its second year, the Portland Bach Festival is continuing to prove that Bach pairs well with just about anything. One popular event from last year’s inaugural festival, Beer & Bach, is back with a micro-brew tasting while festival performers play, June 19 at the Ocean Gateway marine terminal. A new event this year is BachTails on June 17, on the rooftop deck of Bayside Bowl. People can eat and drink on the deck and enjoy periodic interludes of Bach music by the festival orchestra. At both events, the music is free, food and drinks are for sale. Also new this year is Bach on a Blanket on June 18. There will be a live ticketed concert inside the Episcopal Church of St. Mary in Falmouth, but it will be broadcast outside the church on a big screen for free.


Portland Bach Festival, June 14-25, $5 (students) to $40, at six venues: Episcopal Church of St. Mary, 43 Foreside Road, Falmouth; Etz Chaim Synagogue, 267 Congress St., Portland; St. Luke’s Cathedral, 143 State St., Portland; Bayside Bowl, 58 Alder St., Portland; Ocean Gateway, 14 Maine State Pier, Portland; East End Community Center, 195 North St., Portland.


In its 23rd season, Salt Bay Chamberfest’s theme this summer is “Move Me.” Works will explore music’s power to move us, emotionally and physically. Performances include a work by Iannis Xenakis for six percussionists, who surround the audience. Another performance will show movement, specifically the movement of nationally known dancer Edwin Olvera. There will also be lectures, a masterclass, a children’s concert and smaller benefit concerts and events.

Salt Bay Chamberfest, Aug. 7-19, $5 (students) to $30, at Darrows Barn, 3 Round Top Lane, Damariscotta.


Want to take your teenagers to a classical concert but aren’t sure they’ll like it? No problem at the Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival, where all five Tuesday evening concerts are free for those 21 and younger. The festival is in its 45th season, with a program designed by music director and pianist Mihae Lee.


Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival, July 11-Aug. 8, $25. free for 21 and under, Deertrees Theatre, 156 Deertrees Road, Harrison.

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 210-1183 or at:

Twitter: @RayRouthier

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