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Transported by Mozart, under the Masonic eye

Roderick Phipps-Kettlewell
Roderick Phipps-Kettlewell

I almost spent Tuesday night channel-surfing between political pundits and a rerun of “NCIS.”

But thanks to my friend John Dingley, I found myself seated in the Triune Masonic Temple in St. Paul, where concert pianist Roderick Phipps-Kettlewell’s Bösendorfer grand piano lives under a symbolic all-seeing eye painted on the wall.

Phipps-Kettlewell organized a last-minute concert titled “Mozart Piano Masterworks” while he’s in town this week to perform at a memorial service. About two-dozen of his fans and friends (Dingley among them) let ourselves be transported away from politics and reruns, even asking him to replay Fantasy in C Minor, K. 475.   

Though he and his wife moved to Cambridge, Mass., last fall, Phipps-Kettlewell returns frequently to the Twin Cities to visit his daughter from a previous marriage and, of course, his piano. After his divorce some years ago, he had the beloved Bösendorfer moved to the temple, where he is a member and thus has frequent visitation privileges. He also is allowed to stage concerts.

“It’s a nice room to play,” the Juilliard-trained pianist told me during the intermission, while attendees purchased his new CD, “Piano Singer.” You can listen to a couple of CD samples here — a little Mozart and Chopin to amplify your MinnPost reading experience, if you will.

Many local connections
Phipps-Kettlewell spent close to 20 years in the Twin Cities, serving as artistic director of the Bach Society of Minnesota and as a music and choir director for a number of churches, including Wayzata Community Church. He also has performed with the Schubert Club, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Minnesota Opera, and on “A Prairie Home Companion.” He teaches and composes as well.

And he doesn’t mind telling you he played the piano in Dayton’s stores in downtown Minneapolis and at Rosedale and Southdale malls. “I got to know many people” and their tastes in music, he says, adding that the experience informed what he chose to record on his 30 CDs.

A useful education, it seems: His website says he has sold more than 1 million CDs. Amadé is the French version of Amadeus, Wolfgang Mozart’s middle name.

Phipps-Kettlewell, a native of England who trained there before getting his master’s at Juilliard in New York, clearly has an affinity for Mozart. “It’s really emotional music. … I love the play of opposites between fantasy and structure,” he said.

A Masonic temple might seem an odd place for a concert pianist to perform for the public, given that the Masons are known to be a secretive order and all. But it makes sense when you consider that Mozart was a Mason in his day. Playing Mozart there creates all kinds of “Magic Flute” vibes – and the high ceiling, painted with clouds and a sunset, makes the venue acoustic-friendly if not heavenly.

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