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Improvising upon a theme, (as organists tend to do), I was wondering who are best performers around the world to-day, by country?

 

In the days when we actually had organ-broadcasts on radio, many of those included some of the great names from other countries, so we actually heard of people like Andre Isoir, Heinz Wunderlich, Anton Heiller and Fernando Germani. Recording companies also gave us names to conjour with; some of whom carved a niche for themselves in specialist areas of music performance and musicology.

 

Desparately attempting to keep in touch, I wonder which performers would now be regarded as top-notch, from countries in Europe, Australia and America: perhaps even further flung or less well-known countries such as Argentina, Iceland, Norway, Russia or maybe even Botswanaland. (Of course, there may well be organists in exile in Thailand, but I think we can draw a veil over them).

 

Now before anyone rushes to the keyboard to say that "organist A" is crap, and should never have been allowed near a keyboard, or that "organist B" is a musical moron who knows nothing much about Bach, I think we should have at least a basic rule of fair engagement. We don't want, I hope, derogatory comments and personal insults; so keep it positive.

 

What I, and presumably others, would be interested to know, is the general concensus about who are the great and good in the contemporary organ-scene, by country, because I'll be blowed if I could name half-a-dozen.

 

Reasons would be welcome, and even evidence of recorded performances, because whilst it is often difficult to judge an organ from a recording, performances can usually be discerned with great accuracy.

 

The other rule must be "country of origin" rather than country of residence, or we will all end up thinking that John Scott was born in New York State and that Carlo Curley hails from London (or wherever he lives these days since moving out of the vicarage at Hammersmith).

 

MM

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I always think its interesting to discover who plays as well in concert as on their recordings. Especially when the recordings are really awesome. So from my experience, the best organists around today are:

 

Wolfgang Zerer, (for all things pre-1750, although he can also play later repertoire wonderfully). Probably the best German organist of his generation. I've heard him 3 times, every time it was incredible.

 

Ben van Oosten (for all things French post 1850). His recordings are sublime and his recitals never disappoint.

 

Andrea Marcon

 

David Briggs (for Cochereau re-constructions, orchestral transcriptions and improvisations)

 

Pier Damiano Peretti

 

Louis Robilliard (Franck, Widor etc)

 

Olivier Latry (although only for contemporary music and improvisation)

 

Eduardo Bellotti (Frescobaldi, improvisation)

 

although I'm slightly biased, my former prof, Pieter van Dijk (Sweelinck, Bach, in Germany he's much admire for his Reger playing, but I can't really judge...) He never plays a bad recital.

 

Of the people I haven't heard live, I would be curious to hear Peter Sykes (Boston) Heinrich Walther (Germany) and Loic Mallié, as their recordings are very special.

 

Now I'm going back to the organ, doubtless I will think of 3 more on the way to church...

 

Greetings

 

Bazuin

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M-C Alain - Bach etc. & Couperin etc.

Thomas Murray - 'Romantics' & Transcriptions etc.

Ben Van Oosten - 19th Century French.

John Scott - Durufle & Dupre etc.('amazing St Pauls recordings).

Naji Hakim - Messaien & his own works.

Margaret Phillips - 'English Baroque' - Stanley etc.

Gere Hancock - Improvisation (one of the few not to sound like Cochereau - sorry pcnd!)

 

AJJ

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Gere Hancock - Improvisation (one of the few not to sound like Cochereau - sorry pcnd!)

 

AJJ

 

Not at all - although they were friends.

 

Actually, I would go even further and suggest that Gerre Hancock is not alone in this. In fact, to my ears, only Pierre Pincemaille and (the late) Yves Devernay sound(ed) like Pierre Cochereau. Even then, there are many differences in their harmonic language. With Devernay, there were some similarities in the way he used the great organ of Nôtre-Dame de Paris. In addition, some of his sorties occasionally evoke similar feelings of euphoria - but the structures and overall harmonic nuances are substantially different.

 

Pincemaille can occasionally make himself sound like Cochereau in some respects. There are clearly certain identifiable harmonic traits (such as the raised fourth, modulations of a third, added-note chords); the most obvious rhythmic feature was that of repeated chords (usually vivace) - often notated in transcriptions as triplets. Then there are the scherzi, with the almost unbroken semiquaver movement (even allowing for changes in texture), double-pedalling (which featured extensively in Cochereau's improvisations) and sudden, final tutti chords.

 

Clearly, Briggs is also able to imitate many facets of Cochereau's style - as he did on a number of occasions during lessons (all of which I have on tape). However, he has a far broader range of interest and stylistic knowledge than simply this one area. Often, lessons were based on a theme (not a musical idea, but a particular composer, period, style or form). There were naturally also times when he encouraged free improvisation.

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Not at all - although they were friends.

 

Actually, I would go even further and suggest that Gerre Hancock is not alone in this. In fact, to my ears, only Pierre Pincemaille and (the late) Yves Devernay sound(ed) like Pierre Cochereau. Even then, there are many differences in their harmonic language. With Devernay, there were some similarities in the way he used the great organ of Nôtre-Dame de Paris. In addition, some of his sorties occasionally evoke similar feelings of euphoria - but the structures and overall harmonic nuances are substantially different.

 

Pincemaille can occasionally make himself sound like Cochereau in some respects. There are clearly certain identifiable harmonic traits (such as the raised fourth, modulations of a third, added-note chords); the most obvious rhythmic feature was that of repeated chords (usually vivace) - often notated in transcriptions as triplets. Then there are the scherzi, with the almost unbroken semiquaver movement (even allowing for changes in texture), double-pedalling (which featured extensively in Cochereau's improvisations) and sudden, final tutti chords.

 

Clearly, Briggs is also able to imitate many facets of Cochereau's style - as he did on a number of occasions during lessons (all of which I have on tape). However, he has a far broader range of interest and stylistic knowledge than simply this one area. Often, lessons were based on a theme (not a musical idea, but a particular composer, period, style or form). There were naturally also times when he encouraged free improvisation.

 

If we want to speak about the current best improvisers I would'nt leave out people like:

 

.Pierre Pincemaille whose style is very well described by pncd! I would add he is also able to improvise "alla Bach" as he uses to do it almost every sunday in Saint-Denis...To me he is the best one even his music is not really innovative, but as for rythm and melody he is perfectly in line with Cochereau!.

 

David Briggs whom I heard twice in Notre Dame: extraordinary concerts by a virtuoso!

 

Thierry Escaich whom I heard improvising very often in St Etienne du Mont (playing with big tennis shoes!)or in concert. Brilliant in his own style not very innovative, although rather modal.

 

I would place at distance the other ones, including Latry who does'nt pretend to be a real improviser, Hakim, Blanc, Guillou ( peculiar case as you know).

 

Devernay was a very brilliant improviser alas to early died.

Lefebvre and Taddei were considered by Cochereau as potential successors: actually with regards this subject, he has been wrong!

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As far as established names go, John Scott and Thomas Trotter are still very much "at the top of their game", for most things other than JSB, and I still maintain that Trotter is my favourite Messiaen interpreter - just listen to his recording of L'Ascension and the Messe de la Pentecote from Douai.

 

As for younger, though established names, two names that spring to mind are David Bednall and Henry Fairs, both of whom have impressed me very much in recitals. International? I suppose Johannes Geffert from Cologne stands out, and for French repertoire Daniel Roth is clearly still inspirational, although I sometimes find him a little heavy-going in German Romantic stuff.

 

 

Clearly, Briggs is also able to imitate many facets of Cochereau's style - as he did on a number of occasions during lessons (all of which I have on tape). However, he has a far broader range of interest and stylistic knowledge than simply this one area. Often, lessons were based on a theme (not a musical idea, but a particular composer, period, style or form). There were naturally also times when he encouraged free improvisation.

 

Yes - I agree about Briggs' improvisation. In an 'Improvisation workshop' , Briggs beckoned to a lad of about ten or eleven to "come over and play Gloucester cathedral organ". He got him to play a sort of ground bass, over which Briggs improvised very effectively in the style of Couperin! A bit gimmicky I suppose, but it makes the point! Clearly, though, the strength of Cochereau's musical language and influence is such that many will be accused of sounding like him, even when its is not justified.

 

I think it was Martin Baker who listed one of his musical interests in his biog. notes as "improvisation in styles NOT influenced by Pierre Cochereau"!

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If we want to speak about the current best improvisers I would'nt leave out people like:

 

.Pierre Pincemaille whose style is very well described by pncd! I would add he is also able to improvise "alla Bach" as he uses to do it almost every sunday in Saint-Denis...To me he is the best one even his music is not really innovative, but as for rythm and melody he is perfectly in line with Cochereau!.

 

David Briggs whom I heard twice in Notre Dame: extraordinary concerts by a virtuoso!

 

Thierry Escaich whom I heard improvising very often in St Etienne du Mont (playing with big tennis shoes!)or in concert. Brilliant in his own style not very innovative, although rather modal.

 

I would place at distance the other ones, including Latry who does'nt pretend to be a real improviser, Hakim, Blanc, Guillou ( peculiar case as you know).

 

Devernay was a very brilliant improviser alas to early died.

Lefebvre and Taddei were considered by Cochereau as potential successors: actually with regards this subject, he has been wrong!

 

 

One other (no longer with us) who I believe was quite under-rated, was Jean-Jacques Grünenwald, who was Titulaire at S. Sulpice between Dupré and Roth (although there was also a lady Titulaire for two or three years after Grünenwald died).

 

I have only one CD of Grünenwald's improvisations, but I find that I am repeatedly drawn to this most refreshingly different - and beautifully crafted music.

 

Then there is Frédéric Blanc (former Titulaire at S. Sernin, Toulouse and now occupying one of only two full-time organist's posts in Paris, that of Titulaire at l'eglise Nôtre-Dame d'Auteuil). Whilst his recorded improvisations are not always of the highest quality, there is much which is interesting.

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Latry has been cited as a "not-so-good" improviser (and since he himself agrees with this statement, there is not much left to discuss!), but I'd like to mention the other two titulaires of Notre-Dame, Philippe Lefèbvre and Jean-Pierre Leguay. (I'm not too fond of Leguay's improvisations during mass at Notre-Dame, but his concert improvisations are a treat.)

 

Lefèbvre - yes. Having stood next to him on a number of occasions, I agree wholeheartedly. A very self-effacing man, too. But Leguay? I am not convinced!

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Lefèbvre - yes. Having stood next to him on a number of occasions, I agree wholeheartedly. A very self-effacing man, too. But Leguay? I am not convinced!

As for the young generation, I'm sad to announce that the last prize winers in Chartres impro contest (Baptiste Florian Marle-Ouvrard and Noel Hazebrouck) are thinking to drop organ in so far as they can't earn their life with it. The second one is now shop assistant in a sort of electronic hyper and the second one (much more gifted) is still titular organist, but as it is surely not enough to afford the daily expenses in the Paris region, he is seriously considering his reconversion as aircraft pilote!

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As for the young generation, I'm sad to announce that the last prize winers in Chartres impro contest (Baptiste Florian Marle-Ouvrard and Noel Hazebrouck) are thinking to drop organ in so far as they can't earn their life with it. The second one is now shop assistant in a sort of electronic hyper and the second one (much more gifted) is still titular organist, but as it is surely not enough to afford the daily expenses in the Paris region, he is seriously considering his reconversion as aircraft pilote!

 

We have this in the UK I think. If memory serves me correctly the organist at St Asaph Cathedral runs a pub.

PJW

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We have this in the UK I think. If memory serves me correctly the organist at St Asaph Cathedral runs a pub.

PJW

 

Actually, I think that it is probably worse in France. There, a tiutulaire is largely expected to be satisfied with the kudos of being able to give his or her appointment on a visiting card and other stationery.

 

Cochereau said that he earned enough money from being Titulaire at Nôtre-Dame to keep himself supplied with Galouises - just.

 

The assistant at S. Etienne, Caen receives nothing for his services (M. Alain Mabit) and I was once told how much Lefèbvre earns at N-D.

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A slight correction regarding the organist at St Asaph - it is in fact the assistant organist, John Hosking, who served behind the bar in a local pub and the landlord was so impressed with him he suggested he took the exams for a licensee (which he passed). The reasoning was that the landlord and his wife could go away on holidays and leave the premises in John's capable hands, and as far as I know this is still the case, he still works there, I think.

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We have this in the UK I think. If memory serves me correctly the organist at St Asaph Cathedral runs a pub.

PJW

 

 

=========================

 

 

I think we should open a new thread entitled "Funny ways that organists make a living."

 

So far, we've had Albert Schweitzer being a Missionary, Doctor, Musicologist and Theologian.

 

There was Dom Gregor Murray being an ecclesiastical "hoodie" at Buckfast Abbey.

 

Then there is a very talented organist who drives a 125 express for Virgin.

 

Now we have an Airline Pilot and a Pub Barman.

 

I heard tell that another chap drives a truck: can't recall who.

 

Lots of organ builders of course.

 

Where does it end?

 

MM

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As for younger, though established names, two names that spring to mind are David Bednall and Henry Fairs, both of whom have impressed me very much in recitals.

 

People may be interested to know that Henry Fairs is giving the lunchtime concert in Birmingham's Symphony Hall on Monday 2 June at 13.00.

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Or racing cars perhaps!

 

Paul

 

 

==========================

 

 

I don't think that Sir George Thalben-Ball ever made a living out of it, but he did drive those big old ERA's around Brooklands; sans seat-belts and proper helmets.

 

I don't know whether that made him brave or simply foolish, but like Billy Cotton (the band leader/broadcaster), he survived to tell the tale.

 

MM

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A bed in the North tower would do me... :lol:

 

I am not sure how useful this would be. Access to the tribune at Nôtre-Dame was changed from the North to the South Tower in Vierne's time. Surely this would simply be frustrating?

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I am not sure how useful this would be. Access to the tribune at Nôtre-Dame was changed from the North to the South Tower in Vierne's time. Surely this wouls simply be frustrating?

Ah yes, of course, it was the south tower which I was thinking of :lol: , mental compass malfunctioned and it's a long time since I did A level Geography. (and not very well when I did!) :unsure:

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