Trinity College alumnus Christopher Houlihan ’09, renowned organist and artist-in-residence at Trinity since 2013, has been named to succeed John Rose as the John Rose College Organist-and-Directorship Distinguished Chair of Chapel Music. Rose’s contributions to the musical life of Trinity College have been both deep and enduring over his 40-year career at the College.
Rose and Houlihan are much sought-after concert organists who have performed for audiences all over the world. Both have spent countless hours practicing and performing on Trinity College’s well-known pipe organ, and, in Rose’s case, thousands of hours teaching student organists. The instrument, built in 1971 by Austin Organs, Inc. of Hartford, contains nearly 5,000 pipes and was designed by Clarence Watters, Trinity College organist from 1932 through 1969.
Houlihan, who is director of music and organist at the Church of the Holy Apostles in New York City, grew up in Somers, Connecticut, and began organ studies with Rose at the age of 12. Houlihan is widely acknowledged as one of the brightest stars in the new generation of organists, praised by the media as “gifted” (The New York Times), “dazzling” (The Wall Street Journal), and “eloquent” (Los Angeles Times).
“Trinity has a unique standing among liberal arts colleges as a center of organ performance and choral music, a tradition that has been the foundation of my own career,” said Houlihan. “I am honored to have the opportunity to continue in this great legacy, serving in the footsteps of Clarence Watters and John Rose.”
Houlihan also studied with Grammy Award-winning organist Paul Jacobs at The Juilliard School, where he earned a master’s degree, and with Jean-Baptiste Robin at the French National Regional Conservatory in Versailles. In 2015, he was selected for The Diapason’s “20 Under 30,” a distinguished list of leaders in the organ world under the age of 30.
Houlihan has established an international reputation for his artistry with performances in celebrated venues in major cities across North America, including at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, and Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco, as well as at numerous conventions of the American Guild of Organists and the Organ Historical Society. In 2014, Houlihan made his Disney Hall debut, performing with principal brass of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, for which the Los Angeles Times raved, “Houlihan is the next big organ talent.”
In February 2017, Houlihan released a new all-Bach organ CD on the Azica label, Christopher Houlihan plays Bach (Azica ACD-71314). Recorded at Trinity College, the CD features Bach’s famous Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor and Houlihan’s own arrangement of Bach’s Italian Concerto, BWV 971.
“At his first organ lesson in the Trinity College Chapel, neither then-12-year-old Christopher Houlihan nor I could have possibly imagined how his career would develop and flourish and that he would ultimately return to Trinity to become my successor,” said Rose. “I could not be more thrilled for him and for Trinity! I also feel confident in saying that one of the earliest ‘Houli Fans,’ the late Professor Majorie V. Butcher, would be equally excited to know that her generous endowment of this position is in such talented hands – and feet.”
Rose, who will retire in December, has overseen the music for 40 consecutive years of major College events at the Trinity College Chapel. In addition to the many solo organ recitals he himself has performed, he curates the Trinity College Organ Series, bringing some of the world’s premier concert organists to play at Trinity, drawing audiences from the campus and the Greater Hartford community. Rose has made 16 LP or CD recordings, several of which were recorded at the Cathedral of St. Joseph (Hartford) and at Trinity, including This Son So Young (Towerhill Recordings), featuring soprano Liesl Odenweller ’88 and the music of Robert Edward Smith, composer-in-residence at the Chapel since 1979.
Among major projects Rose has overseen at the College are the installation of the Austin organ’s Trompette-de-Jubilé stop and the choir gallery (both in 1982), the organ case (1986) designed by Charles Nazarian ’73, and a new four-manual organ console (2013). The Crypt Chapel organ, designed and built by Nicholson & Co. of Malvern, England, was given in honor of Rose in 1992.
Rose serves on the board of the Albert Schweitzer Organ Festival Hartford, a major national competition for young organists, which relocated to Trinity College in 2016.
In addition, Rose directs The Chapel Singers, Trinity’s oldest student organization, who sing at weekly Chapel services, College convocations, and concerts on campus and beyond. Houlihan, who will begin his new role at Trinity in August, will also direct The Chapel Singers.
At the annual Christmas Festival of Lessons and Carols in 2016, a large choir of Chapel Singers alumni was organized to sing at the services, celebrating Rose’s direction of 80 consecutive Festivals of Lessons and Carols at Trinity. Rose has organized and conducted The Chapel Singers in concert tours both domestically and abroad. Following this academic year’s Commencement, the group will embark on its second performance tour of Venice, Italy. Rose also serves as an adjunct professor of music, ex officio, in the Department of Music, where he directs the Trinity College Choir.
College Chaplain Allison Read said, “John Rose is a highly respected musician and much admired member of the Trinity College community who has dedicated himself and his career to the liberal arts endeavor. He shares his own passions and professional excellence with young people while simultaneously making a significant contribution to the arts in the Greater Hartford region and beyond. As College organist and director of Chapel music, John has shaped the lives of generations of Trinity students, beautifully crafted worship in the historic Trinity College Chapel, extended the Chapel music programs to a wide public audience, and deeply enriched the College through musical excellence and a strong commitment to life in community. A distinguished chair in his name allows us not only to honor and preserve his legacy but to carry it forward with the work of his successor, Christopher Houlihan.”
Read noted that the College will celebrate Rose’s career with a public organ recital and festive gatherings during the fall 2017 semester.
Rose earned a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University, where he was also an instructor in organ. He was a student of the famed virtuoso Virgil Fox for seven years. Rose began his professional career at the age of 20, when he was appointed organist of the Sacred Heart Cathedral/Basilica in New Jersey.
In 2005, the John Rose Organ Scholarship Fund was established in his honor to be awarded annually to students of organ performance at Trinity College; Houlihan was the first recipient of the scholarship award. In honor of Rose’s 30th anniversary at the College, the choir rehearsal room was named the John Rose Choir Practice Room and two modern stained glass “Rose” windows were commissioned from Timothy Szal ’06 and installed in the director of Chapel music’s office. The John Rose College Organist-and-Directorship Distinguished Chair of Chapel Music was created in 2016 through a bequest from the estate of Marjorie Van Eenam Butcher, Trinity College professor of mathematics, emeritus, who was the College’s first female faculty member.
Rose is an elected member of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, an elected fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in London, and a member of the Association of Anglican Musicians and the American Guild of Organists. He has performed countless solo recitals at Trinity and appeared both in the Trinity College Chapel and at The Bushnell as a soloist with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.