The 2013 Big Easy classical arts awards will be handed out next week. A highlight of the event will be the Lifetime Achievement Award presentation to Albinas Prizgintas, musical director at Trinity Church. He’s renowned for his classic training at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. But he has a surprising range — and techniques.
Albinas Prizgintas settles in comfortably at the massive grand organ at Trinity Church. So comfortable that he kicks off his shoes, and begins.
WWNO's Eileen Fleming asks, “Why are you playing with bare feet?”
“It started during Katrina, because obviously Juilliard would never have allowed me to play like this," he said. "Because I slept by the organ. I had a yoga mat over there. I’d sleep a little bit and play the organ and I got tired of putting my shoes on and off. So then I just had my shoes off and then I just got hooked. I just couldn’t go back to wearing shoes."
Prizgintas was born in Germany at the end of the Second World War. His family settled in New Jersey, where he became familiar with popular music, and the blues. His mother was an organist at a Catholic Church, and that’s where his love and affinity for classical music solidified. He’s never wanted another kind of profession. He was at Juilliard when he heard sounds of New Orleans on an album called “Gumbo Soup.”
“I was having a hard time working on my doctorate because I couldn’t come up with a reasonable thesis, and when I heard Dr. John’s album I said ‘Well this is a doctoral thesis.’ It was a wonderful compilation of exquisitely performed New Orleans-style R&B," he said. "So I knew about New Orleans because I was very much aware of Professor Longhair at that particular time when I was playing the blues.”
And it’s this crossover appreciation for modern music and its production that enables him to play everything from Procol Harum to St. James Infirmary.
Prizgintas says it means a great deal for him to win the Lifetime Achievement Award, and credits his wife Manon for making his success possible. So what’s next? He says he is weighing options of new ways he can give back to the community.
The award luncheon sponsored by the Foundation for Entertainment, Development and Education will be held Monday at the Hotel Monteleone.