Take Note: Meet San Diego’s New Civic Organist, As Seen at Balboa Park

Spanish musician Raul Prieto Ramirez made his debut on stage at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion on Jan. 7

A musician from Spain is taking center stage in San Diego – every Sunday at Balboa Park’s iconic Spreckels Organ Pavilion – as he steps into a noteworthy role.

Raul Prieto Ramirez is the newest San Diego Civic Organist and Artistic Director of the Spreckels Organ Society. He was chosen for the prestigious position after a months-long, worldwide search by the Spreckels Organ Society and the City of San Diego, the Organ Society said. Over the summer and early fall, he performed audition concerts at the venue and audiences took to his shows.

According to the Spreckels Organ Society, Prieto Ramirez is the artistic director and founder of the Barcelona Summer Organ Festival and Academy in Spain. He’s known for his electrifying showmanship and ability to play the concert organ from memory.

He’s only the eighth person in history to hold the position of San Diego Civic Organist.

San Diego's new Civic Organist, Raul Prieto Ramirez, performs on the pipes for NBC 7 and Telemundo 20. You can see him performing at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion at Balboa Park on Sundays during a free, one-hour concert that starts at 2 p.m.

Prieto Ramirez made his debut as San Diego Civic Organist during a Jan. 7 concert at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, performing a variety of tunes, from Bach and "The National Anthem" to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

He returns to the pavilion this Sunday – a stage he will make his own.

Prieto Ramirez told Telemundo 20 and NBC 7 on Wednesday that his Sunday concerts will include a variety of music so that there's something for everyone in the audience.

Robert Lang/Spreckels Organ Society

"I try to play a little bit of something for every one of them," he said.

The Spreckels Organ Pavilion, located in the heart of Balboa Park, houses the Spreckels Organ, which boasts more than 5,000 pipes – varying in lengths, from the size of a pencil to 32-feet – making it the largest outdoor pipe organ in the world. The organ is kept inside a vaulted structure; the sounds of the pipes can often be heard reverberating through the center of Balboa Park.

The Spreckels organ and pavilion were donated to the City of San Diego on Jan. 1, 1915, by brothers John D. and Adolph B. Spreckels, ahead of the Panama-California Exposition. Today, a large plaque can be seen on the pavilion stage, bearing the proclamation of the brothers’ donation.

Since 1917, San Diego has invited civic organists to perform weekly at the pavilion.

Prieto Ramirez said he will never forget that the Spreckels Organ was a gift to the city and the world -- a gift meant to be shared and enjoyed by all.

"I don't play for music lovers. I don't play for organ nerds. I play for everyone," he said.

Prieto Ramirez urges San Diegans who've never attended an organ concert at the pavilion to give one of his Sunday shows a whirl -- because they just might find something new to like. The free concerts are at 2 p.m. every Sunday.

By the way, if you notice the organist wearing a pair of white shoes with a small heel on them during his shows, there's a story behind the kicks.

He has so much respect for the famous Spreckels Organ, Prieto Ramirez wears special, custom-made shoes designed for playing the instrument that have some bend to them, which helps move his feet swiftly across the keys.

"I wouldn't touch the keys with dirty hands, so I wouldn't touch the keys on the bottom with the same shoes I use to walk on the ground," he said.

Balboa Park is one of San Diego’s best-known landmarks. If you’re planning a visit, here’s a look at five must-see and must-do things at Balboa Park.
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