The Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ begin their annual summer concert series Orgelfest17 this week and continue with performances most Tuesday nights in August. This is the final season of municipal organist Ray Cornils’ 27-year tenure at the helm of the city-owned Kotzschmar Organ, which is built into Merrill Auditorium.

The series celebrates the range and depth of the organ and features mostly guest performers.

Monica Czausz

Cornils, whose final official concert as municipal organist will be in December, will perform as part of Orgelfest on Aug. 22. Other performers are Monica Czausz on Tuesday, Richard Elliott on Aug. 8 and Nathan Avakian on Aug. 15.

Cornils has been playing the Kotzschmar longer than some of the guests have been alive, he said, proof that the old-world instrument thrives in modern times.

“People often ask me if there are people still learning to play the organ, and these concerts will clearly put that question to rest as there are so many incredible young organists around,” he said in an email.

Cathedral organist at Christ Church Episcopal Cathedral in Houston, Texas, Czausz is recognized as one of top 20 organists younger than 30.

Avakian served as the youth representative on the American Theatre Organ Society board of directors from 2011 to 2013, managing programs for young organ students.

Richard Elliott

Cornils tries to schedule a diverse roster of concerts that showcase the many moods of the Kotzschmar.

The programs mix classic works and contemporary pieces, and Avakian will play the music of Dave Brubeck, Charlie Daniels, “Slumdog Millionaire” and Queen.

Cornils, who will perform with the Kotzschmar Festival Brass, has chosen music “that particularly moves me” by Gabrieli, Bach and Strauss.

A thread throughout the series is the composer John Weaver. The opening and closing concerts both include Weaver compositions, and Elliott studied with him. Weaver, who taught at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and the Juilliard School in New York, has performed on the Kotzschmar many times.

Cornils is pleased that Orgelfest introduces the instrument to people who learn to appreciate and support it.

“We are now attracting world-class organists to the city and this instrument, which once again speaks with its original beauty and brilliance. We have made huge strides in bringing the pipe organ and its awareness to people of all ages, but especially children with our in-school curricula and concerts,” he said.

Concerts begin at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are $13 to $23. Learn more or buy tickets at or

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