Renowned organist pumping up efforts to refurbish Varnus Hall

·3 min read

After buying the Pilgrim United Church in Brooklyn last fall, with the aim of having performances of his own and other classical music in the building, renowned Canadian-Hungarian organ virtuoso Xaver Varnus is now pumping up efforts to get funding for his goal.

He’s turning to the worldwide community for help in restoring and upgrading the historical building and has set up a GoFundMe page on the internet. As of March 24, it had raised $7,728 with donations coming from as far away as Japan and Korea.

So far, the virtuoso has completed a number of interior renovations to what he’s called Varnus Hall. He converted a dining room into a tea room and freshened up areas with paint. More significantly, he recently installed a massive pipe organ in the church.

“Luckily, our ancestors built so wonderfully in older times that my fairy-tale church has been in perfect condition for 130 years and so all we had to do was paint and beautify,” Varnus said in an email. “Of course, all this is true only for the static condition and interior of the building, as its exterior was regularly battered by storms,” he added.

Varnus wants to return the church’s exterior to its former glory, which consisted of red brick.

“One of the understandable, but aesthetically awful architectural solutions of the ‘50s and ‘60s in Eastern Canada was that the churches began to be covered with white vinyl siding instead of wood,” said Varnus. “These covers are ugly and not timeless. It is my big dream to restore this beautiful building in its original form.”

Currently, some of the siding is coming off and structural repairs are needed as well.

He’s grateful for the support so far and emphasized that the project is not just for himself.

“If I used the building only for my own purposes, I wouldn’t feel morally right to ask for financial help from others. But I dedicated this church, its magnificent concert organ, and its arts program to the services of the community,” said Varnus. “So I am grateful if this community can help me make this ancient church as beautiful as possible and have plenty of music and art living within its walls in the future.”

The organist has invited musicians abroad to take to the stage in Brooklyn. He reports having a lot of positive feedback, but that the pandemic has put most things on hold.

Meanwhile, he’s hosted numerous concerts so far, including two on March 21, Bach’s birthday. He’s also recorded several Youtube videos inside the church.

As the impact of COVID-19 lessens in many parts of the world, the chances of hosting a live concert is becoming more of a possibility, he suggested.

In August, the Kelemen String Quartet of Hungary is expected to grace the stage at Varnus Hall.

“They are one of the most important young chamber ensembles in the music world. Its leader is Barnabas Kelemen, who has performed as a soloist with all the world’s great conductors and symphony orchestras,” suggested Varnus.

The ensemble has plans to play at the Banff Music Festival in August, then to visit Varnus and give a concert in Varnus Hall.

In September, the Royal Canadian College of Organists is due to meet at the hall for its annual general meeting, depending on the situation with the pandemic.

Varnus said he appreciates the local support he’s received since moving to the small Queens town.

He’s also had several musicians visit his hall including Barbara Butler and Walter Delahunt.

“Although I have not yet found a specific reference to this in the Bible, I am certain that paradise was once on this peninsula. There is hardly a more beautiful and peaceful place on earth,” he enthused.

Renowned worldwide, Varnus has played in famous venues such as the Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom). He has more than 67,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel, while his Bach concert Toccata and Fugue in D minor has drawn more than nine million views on YouTube.

Kevin McBain, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin