Concert organist and research scholar Randall Harlow has long dodged conventional expectations. As a performer, he has eschewed the competition circuit, choosing instead to explore the outer reaches of the organ repertoire, from avant-garde contemporary and electro-acoustic compositions and forgotten works of the past to chamber music, concertos, and transcriptions. Performances have taken him across the US, to Russia, France, Germany, Greenland, and cathedrals in England. He can be heard on American Public Media's nationally syndicated radio show Pipedreams.
A specialist in contemporary music, Randall Harlow was the first organist to be awarded a coveted New Music USA Project and an Aaron Copland Fund Recording Grant, in support of his second album, Organon Novus. The most comprehensive recording ever made of contemporary American organ music, the 3-disc anthology features more than twenty world premiere recordings of works by major American composers, from Samuel Adler, David Lang, and Alvin Lucier to Shulamit Ran, Christian Wolff and John Zorn, to be released on the Innova label in late 2019. He performed many of these works in a series of concerts at Indiana University, the University of Chicago, Harvard and Stanford Universities. His numerous premieres include the North American premiere of Karlheinz Stockhausen's Himmelfahrt, the First Hour of KLANG, and works for organ with live-electronics by Steve Everett and Rene Uijlenhoet. Also an avid performer with orchestra, he performs the organ concertos of Lou Harrison and Chen Yi, and gave the North American premieres of concertos by Petr Eben, Tilo Medek, and Giles Swayne. He also premiered the first and only Barlow Prize commission for organ, Exodus by Aaron Travers. His debut CD, Transcendante, features the first transcription for organ of Franz Liszt's legendary Transcendental Etudes, released on the Pro Organo label. A third album is forthcoming, featuring spectral and microtonal extemporizations on a mechanical baroque organ.
As a scholar Randall Harlow's interests range from empirical performance-cognition research, with a focus on gesture and ecological theories, to hyper-acoustic instruments and performance technologies. His recent article, “Ecologies of Practice in Musical Performance” was published in a special issue of the ethnomusicology journal, MUSICultures. He was awarded a 2019-20 Fulbright Global Scholar Award for his Global Hyperorgan project. A collaboration with McGill University’s IDMIL laboratory and the Orgelpark research center in Amsterdam, the Global Hyperorgan is an intercontinental musical instrument, a new kind of global space for acoustic musical play. In 2015 he was awarded a Diesterweg Fellowship and served as a guest professor at the University of Siegen, Germany. He has twice been a keynote speaker at Orgelpark symposiums in Amsterdam, and has presented at conferences at Cornell, Harvard, and Oxford Universities, the International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition (ICMPC), Performance Studies Network (PSN), Porto International Conference on Musical Gesture in Portugal, Göteborg International Organ Academy in Sweden (GOArt), the Westfield Center, and Eastman Rochester Organ Initiative Festival (EROI). He holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the Eastman School of Music, following previous degrees at Emory and Indiana Universities, and served for a year on faculty at Cornell University. His organ teachers have included Hans Davidsson, Timothy Albrecht and Christopher Young, and William Porter in improvisation. Randall Harlow is currently Associate Professor of Organ and Music Theory at the University of Northern Iowa.