The organist of the world-famous Notre Dame Cathedral is back in Davenport, to play a benefit concert to raise money for the restoration of the Paris landmark.

Philippe Lefebvre, organist at Notre Dame since 1985, will perform Thursday, Oct.  5 at 7 p.m. at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, 417 N. Main St., Davenport. The concert will be followed by a meet and greet. Student tickets are $10 and adult tickets are $20.

Notre Dame Cathedral organist Philippe Lefebvre playing the organ at St. Anthony’s Church in downtown Davenport, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Any proceeds from the concert will be sent to Notre Dame Cathedral for the restoration, estimated to cost $865 million, following a devastating 2019 fire.

“We are so excited to have such a world-famous organist/musician come to Davenport,” said Kim Noftsker, music director at St. Anthony’s.

Notre-Dame’s famous Grand Organ is the largest organ in France, consisting of over 8,000 pipes, a console with five keyboards and pedals, and 109 stops. Its largest pipes stand an impressive 32 feet tall.

Lefebvre has played all over the world in solo concerts and with many symphony orchestras. He is known as one of the greatest improvisers of this century and part of the last century, and performed on the St. Anthony’s organ when it was dedicated in 2017, which has about 1,000 pipes.

Philippe Lefebvre, 74, has been one of three organists for Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris since 1985 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“It is a special organ, because in my opinion, it has the influence of the French song,” Lefebvre said Wednesday of the Davenport instrument. “It’s a French organ builder, with a big influence of the French style.

“It’s more warm,” he said, noting some of the pipes are horizontal, not vertical. “Most organs are only vertical pipes. Here it has horizontal ones, and that comes from French style. It’s a very special sound, very strong. It makes like a fanfare, brass band.”

Lefebvre playing the St. Anthony’s organ on Oct. 4, 2023 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“For a small organ, you make a big organ sound,” Lefebvre said. Davenport is the first stop on a tour this month of other Notre Dame benefit concerts – in Birmingham, Ala.; Dallas, Tex., Philadelphia and Indianapolis.

“It was so terrible, the story with the fire, that people from all over the world send money,” he said. “For a lot of people, Notre Dame is France.”

Smoke and flames rise during a fire at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019, potentially involving renovation works being carried out at the site, the fire service said. A major fire broke out at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris sending flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the sky, the fire service said. (Photo by Hubert Hitier / AFP) (Photo by HUBERT HITIER/AFP via Getty Images)

Lefebvre, 74, recalled a special service he attended at Notre Dame in honor of John F. Kennedy, soon after he was assassinated in Dallas Nov. 22, 1963. All presidents across Europe attended, he said. “It was incredible.”

“It’s a privilege to be organist there, because of the history of the church,” Lefebvre said. “The organ is incredible.”

St. Anthony’s has a real French connection from its early days in 1837 to its current pipe organ that was installed in 2017 by the Noack Organ Company of Georgetown, Mass.

Didier Grassin is a well-known organ builder and the president of Noack. The St. Anthony’s was voiced by Bertrand Cattiaux, who headed up the restoration of the Notre Dame Cathedral “Great” Organ about 20 years ago and is currently working on the restoration since the fire in April 2019, Noftsker said.

Part of the Great Organ at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, which dates from the 12th century.

“He is very famous,” Lefebvre said of Cattiaux Wednesday.

After the fire (April 15, 2019, during a previous cathedral restoration), the congregation moved to another church (in central Paris, near the Louvre museum), Saint Germain L’Auxerrois, where he plays organ. They plan to return to the restored Notre Dame in December 2024.

“It’s a miracle, because the firemen, they stopped the fire,” Lefebvre said. “It’s a miracle. And for the Great Organ, nothing, only dust. No fire, no water. Because above the organ there is a special platform in stone, so the water cannot go on the organ.”

Smoke and flames rise from Notre-Dame Cathedral on April 15, 2019 in Paris, France. A fire broke out and quickly spread across the building, collapsing the spire. The cause is yet unknown but officials said it was possibly linked to ongoing renovation work. (Photo by Veronique de Viguerie/Getty Images)

Miraculously, the Grand Organ survived the fire with minor damages, sustaining water damage in only one pipe out of thousands. However, the Grand Organ needs to be totally restored to remove the lead dust that settled inside it in the aftermath of the fire, according a description of the process on the Friends of Notre-Dame website.

The Grand Organ’s body and pipes contain leather which helps direct the air flow that produces its impressive sound. In the process of decontaminating the organ, the leather must be changed and replaced. 

In early December 2020, the Grand Organ was dismantled and removed from Notre-Dame Cathedral, sent for expert restoration at an undisclosed location in France. Once the restoration work on the organ is complete, it will take about six months to tune and harmonize the Grand Organ before it can be played again. Tuning is a very precise process, as the organ is tuned to the specific acoustic environment of Notre-Dame Cathedral.

The main sanctuary at St. Anthony’s, where Lefebvre performed for the dedication of its organ in 2017 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

The restoration work, organ reassembly and tuning are projected to finish by 2024.

The St. Anthony’s Thursday concert will feature music from all over the world – France, Germany, England, Spain, Italy, and Belgium.

Lefebvre performing at St. Anthony’s on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023.

“It’s like a trip in Europe, and composers from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries,” Lefebvre said. “It’s to have many colors of different music and colors of the organ.”

For tickets, click HERE.