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The Darwinian Organist?


MusingMuso
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All too often, we talk far too much about the organ as a machine, rather than the music written for it. In the event that we talk about music, it is also very apparent that much of the organ repertoire remains unheard, undiscovered or neglected; perhaps more so than other instrument.

 

With that in mind, it is entirely commendable that certain organists have set out to enlighten or educate; yet recording companies seem to shy away from anything which doesn't include at least the Bach D-minor and the Widor Toccata.

 

The very fact that organists tend to be conservative and even disapppointingly conformist or predictable, means that nothing changes quickly; if at all. It therefore follows, that anyone contemplating writing a piece of organ-music, must assume that any reward will be in the next world rather than this; whilst the chances of having almost anything published, are really quite remote.

 

Sadly, the problem isn't even restricted to England, because the very interesting works of Weidermann, the celebrated Prague organist/composer, remain unpublished to this day; though there are plans afoot to rectify this. Indeed, there is a largely unknown repertoire, from the Czech/Slovak region, which could easily fill several albums of fascinating music, and this is but one small area, about twice the size of Scotland.

 

I know that the contemporary music scene is quite difficult for many people; myself included. However, I think that a sad state of affairs exists, when outstanding (or at least extremely worthy) music simply fades into obscurity, in a way which would not be allowed to happen in other genres of music-making.

Indeed, it is only in the past three years or so, that I have begun to discover a small part of the enormous pool of unknown music, and it has been a largely delightful journey. The fact that much of this originates from Eastern Europe is really quite irrelevant.

 

My great problem with organ-recitals, is the fact that they seldom, if ever, venture beyond Bach, Vierne, Widor and Mendelssohn (so to speak), and as a consequence, the organ is seen to be a static, and therefore rather staid instrument without much of a future.

 

What future CAN there be, if organists stick to what they think people want to hear?

 

More importantly, it means that few, if any, composers, would bother to write a piece of organ-music, for fear that it would be ignored.

 

It seems to me, that there exists a certain Darwinian logic in all this, because that which fails to adapt, never fails to die out. Religion is rapidly fading away, possibly because it has failed to adapt to the scientific and technological age. The organ is fading fast with that religious decline, and seems to be held in much the same sort of contempt by those of a more contemporary disposition.

 

Is there a way forward from this low-point, or are we doomed to inevitable extinction?

 

MM

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Up late - my wife has been singing Kurtag and Feldman at the Proms tonight and needs collecting from the last train! Re-reading the thread on transcriptions from a while back answers some of these questions I think, MM. You said yourself that Hector Olivera, for example, has got it right - but when did he ever play some Weidermann in a recital? He has got rich by giving people what they want (ie nothing challenging) and doing it quite brilliantly, but it's hardly innovative musically as far as I could see from his web clips - Star Wars medleys and turbocharged Jig Fugues are hardly the stuff of artistic revolution. I'm sure he can play the Reubke stunningly - so why doesn't he? The organ is au fond (pardon the pun) nowadays blessed with a dwindling audience that by and large knows what it likes, and likes what it knows. Maybe it always has been. Players don't give listeners what they think they want to hear - I think it IS what they want to hear. Anyone trying to push that envelope is in for a rough ride, or so it seems to me, and what that means for the future is for others to speculate on. I did once programme Slavicky ''Die Augen' at a major venue and was asked by the presenter to drop it in favour of something more 'approachable'. At least I tried, but I've still never found the right venue to play it and fear I may have wasted my time learning it, fine though it is - unless you know of a few Czech venues that would like to hear it played by an Englishman...

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I'm going to approach this from the perspective of an English organist working in Australia. The church i work for has about 30 recitals a year of varying standards. Many of our organists attempt to plan thematic programmes, eg and all Buxtehude recital, or all transcriptions.

 

I've arranged "gimmicky" recitals - such as French programmes inspired by plainsong and performed in a candlelit dark church. Attendances were up.

 

It's also the case that if we as musicians find a lot of contemporary music unpalatable, at least on first hearing. then we cannot rightly expect audiences to be any more open minded. I'm finding more and more that pre or during concert talks help, or properly presented programme notes. I can also remember inappropriate recitals in a number of venues - Couperin does not go well on an organ lacking mutation stops, neither does romantic organ music on a six top one manual mechanical.

 

Unless we give good reason to attend a recital (and the chance to sit in a cold church, listening to unfamiliar music, with no intellectual engagement through written or spoken word is NOT that) then audiences will remain disinterested and rightfully small.

 

And to finish with contemporary music - the argument can rage for days about atonal versus tonal etc etc (yawn) but two of the finest recent compositions i've heard for the instrument have come from Graham Koehne in Adelaide - namely his Gothic Toccata and the wonderful chorale prelude "To his servant Bach, God grants a final glimpse: The morning star" (based on "How Brightly Shines the Morning Star). Modern music can be accessible.

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Up late - my wife has been singing Kurtag and Feldman at the Proms tonight and needs collecting from the last train! Re-reading the thread on transcriptions from a while back answers some of these questions I think, MM. You said yourself that Hector Olivera, for example, has got  it right - but when did he ever play some Weidermann in a recital? He has got rich by giving people what they want (ie nothing challenging) and doing it quite brilliantly, but it's hardly innovative musically as far as I could see from his web clips - Star Wars medleys and turbocharged Jig Fugues are hardly the stuff of artistic revolution. I'm sure he can play the Reubke stunningly - so why doesn't he? The organ is au fond (pardon the pun) nowadays blessed with a dwindling audience that by and large knows what it likes, and likes what it knows. Maybe it always has been. Players don't give listeners what they think they want to hear - I think it IS what they want to hear. Anyone trying to push that envelope is in for a rough ride, or so it seems to me, and what that means for the future is for others to speculate on. I did once programme Slavicky ''Die Augen' at a major venue and was asked by the presenter to drop it in favour of something more 'approachable'. At least I tried, but I've still never found the right venue to play it and fear I may have wasted my time learning it, fine though it is - unless you know of a few Czech venues that would like to hear it played by an Englishman...

 

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

 

I find it quite encouraging that Stephen has at least ventured outside the box of convention, and I quite sympathise with the sense of futility in doing so, when people "want what they like".

 

I could probably "czech" out the details in my files, but I wonder if Stephen could tell me WHICH Slavicky wrote the work he mentions?

 

There was Klement Slavicky and Milan Slavicky. Klement wrote a brilliant toccata for piano, incidentally.

 

How I wish that we could enjoy the sense of integrity which seems, on the surface, to exist especially in Czech music, whereby mainstream composers automatically write for the organ. I often wonder if it wasn't just a communist thing, when "state" sponsored musicians and composers promoted their own, yet kept it within the national boundaries. Again, going from memory, I think Klement Slavicky was one of the "bad boys" who refused to compromise his style, and fell out of favour with the communist authorities; thus making life very difficult for himself. So far as I have been able to ascertain, his organ-music is no longer in print. Again from memory, I "think" I am right in saying that Klement Slavicky was a Slavic composer......the ones who are a bit wilder and less conformist; hence the term "Bohemian". The Czech and Slavic identities are actually quite separate, and it from the Slavic tradition that the great folk-song and dance rhythms derive.

 

Having "switched on" to this music, I do find it interesting that not a single person in the Czech Republic or Slovakia has tried to contact me, in spite of the fact that it is there for all to see on the internet. It seems that they are as parochial as we are, yet I have communicated with any number of Poles in rather marginal English.

 

The more I study, the more difficult it gets of course, as I move from the general to the particular, and a major handicap seems to be a lack of available music sources, with many things being out of print and with the major publishing houses now dropping titles as they face the grim reality of economic self-reliance, rather than state sponsorship.

 

However, with a live-in interpreter :mellow: I am in a fairly strong position when it comes to communications, and this is one of the reasons why I want to get across there to meet people. Perhaps I should banish English from the household, then I would have no option but to learn the language! Laziness is just so easy!

 

There is so much to share and enjoy, and not all of it is remote or unapproachable by any means. I often play a little fugue by Czernohorsky, which is quite simple as fugues go, but which has a powerful rhythmic drive. Then there are the fine Carl Ferdinand Seger works, which really are good, and deserve to be better known.

 

On the broader issue of introducing new works into recital programmes, perhaps one per programme is enough. In fact, I'm toying with the idea of getting together an entirely former "Eastern Bloc" programme for Halifax PC next year, which isn't quite so remote as it may seem, because one could slide in the Liszt BACH and the Mushel Toccata, which are well enough known and even liked by people.

 

I do actually play a transcription of "The flight of the bumble-bee", so perhaps a hint of Hector Olivera might be in order, but definitely NOT played on the pedals, lest it sound more like "River Dance" than Tchaikovsky, what with all the action noise!

 

MM

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

 

I could probably "czech" out the details in my files, but I wonder if Stephen could tell me WHICH Slavicky wrote the work he mentions? 

 

There was Klement Slavicky and Milan Slavicky.  Klement wrote a brilliant toccata for piano, incidentally.

 

Milan Slavicky. Didn't know there were two of them - which I guess rather proves your point....!

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By all means 'spice' up a programme with unusual repertoire - the same Franck, Dupre, Bach etc does eventually become tiresome, unless played supremely well. Just make sure you don't include music, and by this I particularly mean works by living composers, either because you think it will be 'good' for the audience or on the justification that there is something inherently wrong about a programme wholly comprising works by dead people.

 

You will not impress hard-core new music fans - they have their Kevin Bowyers or Bowers-Broadbents to feed that fix - but what is even worse, you will also irritate the hell out of the audience, some of whom may not come again. Remember, the public is always right, even if they're wrong.

 

Oh, and if you are putting on a series of recitals with a theme or composer, but one of the visiting recitalists is a specialist in a particular part of the repertoire, be flexible. I've never forgotten how when introducing the evening's recitalist - a specialist in the French Romantic school - the resident organist pompously noted that when he first saw the programme (Franck, Vierne, Widor) he immediately telephoned, to say, "Oh, but we must have some Bach"! B):mellow:B)

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For me, the answer is to present 'challenging' music, but be very thoughtful how it is offered up to the audience.

 

Just as a 'lollipop' can be judiciously inserted in an otherwise serious recital (I see that John Scott is including 'Handel in the Strand' in his RAH programme later in the year), so can an unsuspecting audience be led to enjoy music more contemporary than they might otherwise expect.

 

Recently I gave a recital to mark the centenary of my old church. The atmosphere of the evening was friendly and nostalgic. The programme, by and large, was of popular items (my assistant played Pomp and Circumstance 4 and the Suite Gothique). My part of the programme was fairly light, apart from slipping in the Communion from the Messe de la Pentecote. Because I could relate this to a well loved character in the church and told the audience about the birdsong, they accepted it without batting an eyelid. Clearly it was enjoyed and drew a positive response because it was not offered up with a health warning 'danger - this is contemporary music - you will not enjoy it'. Indeed, the most enthusiastic response came from one person whose previous musical tastes strayed no further than Friday Night is Music Night.

 

In another fairly conservative programme I played Macmillan's spellbinding 'Gaudeamus in loci pace'. Again, I was careful not to wave the 'contemporary music' flag. The audience accepted the piece, and all the remarks I received after the concert were of how much people were struck by the atmosphere of the piece. (Apart, that is, from my wife who said it sounded like a computer trying to sing. I tried to take that as a compliment to my exceptional rhythmic precision).

 

So, if the performer does not make a big 'contemporary' deal about the music, and offers it as a small part of a more well known programme, it may be easier for the audience to accept and people can see that there is more beyond Bach, Mendelssohn and Widor, or rather, that there is a continuum leading from ancient to modern.

 

Before coming onto the site today I stumbled across a website for the 'new organ music forum' - four recitals of aggressively modern music. Much as I enjoy finding about new music, that would be too much for me and, I suspect, most other listeners and practitioners.

 

Incidentally, I did hear one performance of 'Die Augen' by a very well known recitalist a few years ago, and recall it as the only recital I have ever managed to fall asleep in ; no small achievement, exceeded, perhaps, only by a friend of mine who managed to sleep through the opening of the Dies Irae of the Verdi Requiem.

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I would suggest that it is to over-simplify to treat "challenging" and "contemporary" as if they were synonymous when applied to music. Surely at the end of the day it is not when a piece was composed but what it sounds like that is the crucial factor in determining its "audience appeal". Personally I still find some of J.S.B's less exciting Preludes and Fugues challenging(at least in terms of keeping my attention !) whilst I am very fond of the Fricker Pastoral

and the Prizeman Toccata holds no terrors for me.

 

That said, it seems fairly obvious that a considerable amount of modern music is challenging in the sense that it lacks any immediate audience appeal. The interesting question, for me, is why this seems to be seen as a fault in the audience rather than in the composer. A chef who insisted on creating unpalatable meals which made those who ate them violently sick could only have a career in an institution catering to the bulimic. But some composers seem to feel that pleasing the audience is not something to which they should be required to give much, if any, attention. Surely there is a touch of self indulgence, not to say conceit and arrogance in such an attitude ? Obviously tastes in music differ just as widely as tastes in food: some prefer their food far more highly spiced than others but if you are a professional cook then you need to pitch your standard at a level which will be acceptable to a sufficiently broad client base to allow you to have a career. Should not composers be prepared to adopt a similar approach ?

 

Perhaps those wishing to find a means of allowing contemporary voices to write in an idiom which will be attractive to a broader audience might do worse than study the careers of successful film composers, and those who are inclined to be instantly dismissive of such a suggestion should remember that this list includes Vaughan Williams, Walton, Bliss and Bax as well as Korngold, Jarre, John Williams and Morricone. Those who want to plough a different furrow have every right to do so. What they do not have is the right to insist that others should like what they produce or be prepared to pay to listen to it !

 

Brian Childs

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I would suggest that it is to over-simplify to treat "challenging" and "contemporary" as if they were synonymous when applied to music. Surely at the end of the day it is not when a piece was composed but what it sounds like that is the crucial factor in determining its "audience appeal". Personally I still find some of J.S.B's less exciting Preludes and Fugues challenging(at least in terms of keeping my attention !) whilst I am very fond of the Fricker Pastoral

and the Prizeman Toccata holds no terrors for me.

 

That said, it seems fairly obvious that a considerable amount of modern music is challenging in the sense that it lacks any immediate audience appeal. The interesting question, for me, is why this seems to be seen as a fault in the audience rather than in the composer. A chef who insisted on creating unpalatable meals which made those who ate them violently sick could only have a career in an institution catering to the bulimic. But some composers seem to feel that pleasing the audience is not something to which they should be required to give much, if any, attention. Surely there is a touch of self indulgence, not to say conceit and arrogance in such an attitude ? Obviously tastes in music differ just as widely as tastes in food: some prefer their food far more highly spiced than others but if you are a professional cook then you need to pitch your standard at a level which will be acceptable to a sufficiently broad client base to allow you to have a career. Should not composers be prepared to adopt a similar approach ?

 

Perhaps those wishing to find a means of allowing contemporary voices to write in an idiom which will be attractive to a broader audience might do worse than study the careers of successful film composers, and those who are inclined to be instantly dismissive of such a suggestion should remember that this list includes Vaughan Williams, Walton, Bliss and Bax as well as Korngold, Jarre, John Williams and Morricone. Those who want to plough a different furrow have every right to do so. What they do not have is the right to insist that others should like what they produce or be prepared to pay to listen to it !

 

Brian Childs

This is an impossible thing to settle, because we are on that impossible subject, taste, but it's still fascinating! I have to come clean, Brian, and say that I would have the Fricker Pastorale burnt at the stake. However - I'm glad you like it! But the more pressing general question is - why should composers (or indeed any other sort of artist) always 'please' the audience? What does 'please' mean? Was Picasso arrogant to paint Guernica, or Shakespeare arrogant to write King Lear? Of course not. Not many people find Shostakovich 14 an easy listen, but it's an important, and unpleasant, masterpiece. Or the second scherzo of Mahler 10 - M's annotations in the score read 'the Devil dances with me - seize me, accursed one, that I may cease to exist... farewell my lyre...' it's not very pleasant music, but worthwhile and illuminating to the highest degree. Must the organ be excluded from all this? As for pitching your food at the broadest common denominator - tell that to Raymond Blanc or Ferran Adria. They may well get more punters through the door if they dropped the prices a bit, served chips with everything and put brown sauce on the tables, but something would be very wrong....

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This is an impossible thing to settle, because we are on that impossible subject, taste, but it's still fascinating! I have to come clean, Brian,  and say that I would have the Fricker Pastorale burnt at the stake. However - I'm glad you like it! But the more pressing general question is - why should composers (or indeed any other sort of artist) always 'please' the audience? What does 'please' mean? Was Picasso arrogant to paint Guernica, or Shakespeare arrogant to write King Lear? Of course not. Not many people find Shostakovich 14 an easy listen, but it's an important, and unpleasant, masterpiece. Or the second scherzo of Mahler 10 - M's annotations in the score read  'the Devil dances with me - seize me, accursed one, that I may cease to exist... farewell my lyre...' it's not very pleasant music, but worthwhile and illuminating to the highest degree. Must the organ be excluded from all this? As for pitching your food at the broadest common denominator - tell that to Raymond Blanc or Ferran Adria. They may well get more punters through the door if they dropped the prices a bit, served chips with everything and put brown sauce on the tables, but something would be very wrong....

 

 

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

 

I quite agree with Stephen, that taste is both subjective and personal. However, if there is one thing I have discovered in my East European studies, it is the fact that there is an "almost" unknown repertoire which spans at least five centuries; ranging from delightful renaissance music, right through to the present day, with a substantial chunk of baroque and latter-day baroque somewhere in the middle.

 

The tragedy of "unknown" repertoire in this instance, has probably got more to do with the politics of the last century than it has to do with music, for the iron curtain really was that, in most areas of human activity except sporting achievement.

 

Oddly enough, and in spite of the obstacles, one of the very first virtuoso recitalists I heard was the late Jiri Ropek, and perhaps the first piece of contemporary organ-music I heard was by him.

 

What fascinates me, is the fact that Ropek always claimed that Weidermann was the most inspirational of organists, and of course, a very substantial composer for the organ. Jiri Ropek claimed that, without this particular organist, the instrument would never have gained the popular appeal in Czechoslovakia which it did. All the more strange, that it has taken until the present-day to do something about publishing his works!

 

It is perhaps even more perverse, that most organists would possibly be able to quote "Volumina" by the recently deceased Ligetti, which has to be one of the most awful pieces of organ-music ever written.

 

Another composer of great interest to me, is the equally recently deceased Marian Sawa of Poland, but thus far, I have not been able to locate any of his organ music in readily available print.

 

I think the thing which frustrates me personally, is the fact that communism seemed to slam the door on cultural-exchange; save for the "show" orchestras which so impressed on their foreign travels, under the watchful eye of the communist authorities. Meanwhile, they were quite happy to lock up Petr Eben in a prison-cell, simply because he wrote religious music and stayed loyal to his catholic roots.

 

One might be excused for thinking that the various revolutions which have overthrown the communist authorities, might have opened up the lines of communication and cultural-exchange, but now, it seems that "market forces" are at work, and organ-music is not really a profitable endeavour.

 

What I hope to be able to do, in a small way, is to open up the lines of communication, and perhaps make some of this "unknown" music available on-line, so that people may judge for themselves. No doubt, there will be a lot of second and third-rate music, but the best is the equal of anything written elsewhere IMHO.

 

One thing I do know, is the fact that much of this music (even contemporary music) is not quite so "challenging" as one might imagine, due to the fact that the communist authorities frowned upon anything too atonal or obscure, which means that many works are based either on popular tunes or catholic plainsong themes.

 

All that stated, I still fail to get my head around contemporary Hungarian organ-music, which tends to leave me quite cold.

 

MM

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It still comes down to a matter of taste.

 

As far as I am concerned, Eben could be joined by Ligeti, Sorabji and a number of others in his cell.... (That said, I do not, of course, condone that incarceration of anyone for their religious views.)

 

On the other hand, I do not particularly want to play (or hear) Boëllmann's Suite Gothique, Widor's Vth, the Bach (or whoever) 565 or any number of Trumpet Tunes at an organ recital.

 

Even if one were to stick to the symphonies of Vierne or Widor, there is a wealth of material which is accessible to the general public, yet not that well-known. In my view, these works also have the advantage that their inspiration, or their roots, if you prefer, spring from a culture which is not so radically different from our own. However, much of the Eastern Bloc music which MM mentions, was born from a culture and a way of life somewhat different from our own - not just in terms of when Czechoslovakia was under the iron rule of communism, but also surely inasmuch as a substantial proportion of their 'national' music is rooted in folk and gypsy music - often totally different in style from that of our own culture.

 

Of course we have Vaughan-Williams and others who set about preserving the oral tradition of our own folk-songs and writing music based on many of these tunes. However, it seems to me that there is not, in this country, such a strong tradition of a whole swathe of 'national' music based on popular or folk-songs. No doubt someone will remind me of Finzi, Arnold Bax and the like; however, the point which I am trying to make (and finding it remarkably difficult clearly to articulate) is that much of the music which MM cites is linked with an entirely different cultural tradition and which fulfilled quite different needs.

 

I wonder if the reason that many British audiences find (for example) this type of music diffcult to appreciate is that, here our audiences look for a 'good tune' - often as a result of what I will call 'aural laziness'. Whilst such pieces as Franck's Third Choral, Boëllmann's Prière à Nôtre-Dame and the Vierne Berceuse each have the requisite 'good tune' (and varying degrees of sentimentality), mauch of the Eastern Bloc music to which I have bothered to listen appears to be rhythmically driven and, whilst there may be tunes there, they are hard to assimilate, because they appear to me to employ a different melodic shape and 'feel' and often seems to lack that emotive element with which British audiences seem to wish to identify. I suppose that I am saying that, to Western ears, much of this music can sound rather clinical and detached.

 

Yes, I realise that I have made some gross generalisations, here. However, I am trying (and probably failing miserably) to suggest a possible reason why English audiences (and organists) tend to shy away from such works.

 

We certainly have a reputation for sticking to what is 'safe', in this country. But as MAB, Jeremy Jones and otheres have implied, it is a brave performer (and presenter) who will programme largely unknown works regularly, in these days of dwinding audiences.

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One aspect that was touched on in an earlier post but is often neglected is for the performer to talk to the audience about the music that he or she is playing. For so many recitals, even the programme is not published in advance. You turn up, find the duplicated list of items, sit and listen, applaud and go home, sometimes none the wiser about the music or its creator.

 

If organists wish to introduce unfamiliar and more "challenging" pieces, they should at least give the audience some background as to why they thought it was worthy of inclusion in the programme. It also gives the audience the chance to see the performer's face rather than the back of his head and perhaps learn more about that person than is often the case.

 

JC

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One aspect that was touched on in an earlier post but is often neglected is for the performer to talk to the audience about the music that he or she is playing.  For so many recitals, even the programme is not published in advance.  You turn up, find the duplicated list of items, sit and listen, applaud and go home, sometimes none the wiser about the music or its creator. 

 

If organists wish to introduce unfamiliar and more "challenging" pieces, they should at least give the audience some background as to why they thought it was worthy of inclusion in the programme.  It also gives the audience the chance to see the performer's face rather than the back of his head and perhaps learn more about that person than is often the case.

 

JC

 

When I give a recital I always talk (briefly) to the audience. That said, I do not generally programme works from the far corners of the globe, so I suppose that all I am doing is giving their eyes a rest from the back of my head (although it could be argued that this is kinder to them than the alternative....)

 

I wonder if the reason that recital programmes are often not published in advance is that many performers fear that hardly anyone would attend if they were appraised in advance of the fare on offer at a particular venue.

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One aspect that was touched on in an earlier post but is often neglected is for the performer to talk to the audience about the music that he or she is playing.  For so many recitals, even the programme is not published in advance.  You turn up, find the duplicated list of items, sit and listen, applaud and go home, sometimes none the wiser about the music or its creator. 

 

If organists wish to introduce unfamiliar and more "challenging" pieces, they should at least give the audience some background as to why they thought it was worthy of inclusion in the programme.  It also gives the audience the chance to see the performer's face rather than the back of his head and perhaps learn more about that person than is often the case.

 

JC

 

Don't assume that this will meet universal approval! Personally, I dislike people talking to the audience at concerts or recitals of any description - and I know I am by no means alone in this.

 

The reason I go to recitals is to hear the organ literature performed - not to to learn about the recitalist or admire his/her physiognomy. Programme notes are the proper way of giving the audience background about unfamiliar works. A very brief introduction at the start of the recital or perhaps after the first piece I can cope with. Much more than that is a distraction from the music.

 

I do agree, however, about advertising in advance the works to be performed. I have had the experience on the one hand of driving 70 miles to a recital only to find it comprised works I wouldn't bother crossing the road to hear, and on the other hand, of hearing reports of recitals I would definitely have gone to had I known what works were going to be performed.

 

What about screening what's going on at the console? I am in two minds about this practice. It can capture my attention to the extent that I don't listen to the music properly. But it can also appeal to the anorak in me by allowing me to work out a lot more about the instrument than I could just be listening.

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Personally, I dislike people talking to the audience at concerts or recitals of any description - and I know I am by no means alone in this.

 

The reason I go to recitals is to hear the organ literature performed - not to to learn about the recitalist or admire his/her physiognomy.  Programme notes are the proper way of giving the audience background about unfamiliar works. 

 

What about screening what's going on at the console?  I am in two minds about this practice.  It can capture my attention to the extent that I don't listen to the music properly.  But it can also appeal to the anorak in me by allowing me to work out a lot more about the instrument than I could just be listening.

 

I very strongly disagree with you there. I was recently forced to stand up and talk to an audience (by Geoffrey Morgan) and I found they absolutely love it. On the whole we are not talking to organ (or even music) buffs; we are talking to people coming to be entertained. A few minutes spent giving a bit of context, telling them what to look out for (in musical or organ terms), explaining why you've put two pieces together in a programme etc is time well spent and I am now a 100% convert. It has been said on here before that there are some players (GM included) whose introductions to the music are often just as enjoyable as the music itself.

 

As for screens, I don't see the point in doing without, where the console is remote. You don't watch F1 racing in plan view from a helicopter; the cameras are right in the thick of the action, where you can almost smell the oil and burning rubber. The feat of playing the organ is one which is scarcely less exciting and amazing to a lot of punters, especially if it's a very physical piece. There are lots of discussions about playing "popular" music & transcriptions to get people interested - why not play "proper" music in a non-stuffy, entertaining and involving way, and see if THAT works for our dwindling audiences?

 

The reason I don't often go to concerts is that I am sick of a besuited player coming on, bowing solemnly, and then going off upstairs to play Reger for 45 minutes. The most enjoyable concert I have been to in the last two years was Geoffrey Morgan "opening" a small amateur-built 2 manual in a tiny village church (as a favour for a friend); the music and the organ were in a way irrelevant, but the experience of being entertained and involved was one that will stay with me. I have almost never been to a choral or orchestral concert where the conductor didn't say a few words of introduction to the piece. I recently watched spell-bound as Ralph Allwood introduced an Arvo Part mag and nunc to a lunchtime audience of tourists in a way that they knew what to expect and how to enjoy it - which he followed by herding all the audience into the first few rows, re-forming the choir in a big circle around them for Spem in Alium - what an experience. Is that showing off or is it really fantastic showmanship?

 

I don't think either of your points have as much to do with performer's ego, showing off or even just simple organ anorakking as you suggest. I think that, on the whole, anything that can be done to encourage and invite the audience be a part of the action is to be widely applauded, and is quite possibly where the Carlo Curleys and Wayne Marshalls of this world are so successful - I think their choice of music is in many ways entirely a sideline issue.

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...  You don't watch F1 racing in plan view from a helicopter; the cameras are right in the thick of the action, where you can almost smell the oil and burning rubber.

(My emphasis.)

 

As was the case on the H-J at the McEwan Hall, Edinburgh, before it was rebuilt by the Willis firm.

 

You could experience the blue sparks from the arcing of the key-contacts, too....

 

:)

 

:)

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I very strongly disagree with you there.  I was recently forced to stand up and talk to an audience (by Geoffrey Morgan) and I found they absolutely love it.  On the whole we are not talking to organ (or even music) buffs; we are talking to people coming to be entertained.  A few minutes spent giving a bit of context, telling them what to look out for (in musical or organ terms), explaining why you've put two pieces together in a programme etc is time well spent and I am now a 100% convert.  It has been said on here before that there are some players (GM included) whose introductions to the music are often just as enjoyable as the music itself.

 

As for screens, I don't see the point in doing without, where the console is remote.  You don't watch F1 racing in plan view from a helicopter; the cameras are right in the thick of the action, where you can almost smell the oil and burning rubber.  The feat of playing the organ is one which is scarcely less exciting and amazing to a lot of punters, especially if it's a very physical piece.  There are lots of discussions about playing "popular" music & transcriptions to get people interested - why not play "proper" music in a non-stuffy, entertaining and involving way, and see if THAT works for our dwindling audiences? 

 

The reason I don't often go to concerts is that I am sick of a besuited player coming on, bowing solemnly, and then going off upstairs to play Reger for 45 minutes.  The most enjoyable concert I have been to in the last two years was Geoffrey Morgan "opening" a small amateur-built 2 manual in a tiny village church (as a favour for a friend); the music and the organ were in a way irrelevant, but the experience of being entertained and involved was one that will stay with me.  I have almost never been to a choral or orchestral concert where the conductor didn't say a few words of introduction to the piece.  I recently watched spell-bound as Ralph Allwood introduced an Arvo Part mag and nunc to a lunchtime audience of tourists in a way that they knew what to expect and how to enjoy it - which he followed by herding all the audience into the first few rows, re-forming the choir in a big circle around them for Spem in Alium - what an experience.  Is that showing off or is it really fantastic showmanship?

 

I don't think either of your points have as much to do with performer's ego, showing off or even just simple organ anorakking as you suggest.  I think that, on the whole, anything that can be done to encourage and invite the audience be a part of the action is to be widely applauded, and is quite possibly where the Carlo Curleys and Wayne Marshalls of this world are so successful - I think their choice of music is in many ways entirely a sideline issue.

 

David, I agree with your points!

 

Whilst there may perhaps be a fine balance between entertaining the audience and talking down to them (or boring them), I agree that if it is done well, it can be far more of a help than a hindrance.

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Margaret Phillips is another who can communicate not only through the music she plays but through her 'chats' in between pieces. Just go to one of her concerts at Milborne Port where the audience moves as she moves from instrument to instrument and you'll see what I mean. Whether it be Bach or something a little more obscure it always works.

 

AJJ

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In this debate I would tend to side with those who favour speaking to the audience, particularly in cases where explanation of a "difficult" work is called for PROVIDED

 

1. The remarks are properly prepared in advance. Except in the case of the most gifted extempore speakers no one should turn round to face an audience without a very clear idea of what they want to say and how they propose to say it. To act otherwise is to court disaster. It is embarrassing for performer, and unhelpful to the audience to be on the receiving end of a few unrelated, incoherent thoughts delivered in an increasingly inaudible mumble as realisation dawns that one has mounted the tiger and has no plan for getting off.

 

2. Care is taken to avoid the unthinking repetition of remarks which are used over and over again to introduce a piece. I have in the past attended different performances by distinguished players where the same work was programmed: I was mildly amused to find that what had seemed like a few brief off the cuff remarks the first time were repeated virtually verbatim on the subsequent occasion, including the same jokes , which were ostensibly sparked by an untoward event during a prior piece.

 

Brian Childs

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I very strongly disagree with you there.  I was recently forced to stand up and talk to an audience (by Geoffrey Morgan) and I found they absolutely love it.  On the whole we are not talking to organ (or even music) buffs; we are talking to people coming to be entertained.  A few minutes spent giving a bit of context, telling them what to look out for (in musical or organ terms), explaining why you've put two pieces together in a programme etc is time well spent and I am now a 100% convert.  It has been said on here before that there are some players (GM included) whose introductions to the music are often just as enjoyable as the music itself.

 

As for screens, I don't see the point in doing without, where the console is remote.  You don't watch F1 racing in plan view from a helicopter; the cameras are right in the thick of the action, where you can almost smell the oil and burning rubber.  The feat of playing the organ is one which is scarcely less exciting and amazing to a lot of punters, especially if it's a very physical piece.  There are lots of discussions about playing "popular" music & transcriptions to get people interested - why not play "proper" music in a non-stuffy, entertaining and involving way, and see if THAT works for our dwindling audiences? 

 

The reason I don't often go to concerts is that I am sick of a besuited player coming on, bowing solemnly, and then going off upstairs to play Reger for 45 minutes.  The most enjoyable concert I have been to in the last two years was Geoffrey Morgan "opening" a small amateur-built 2 manual in a tiny village church (as a favour for a friend); the music and the organ were in a way irrelevant, but the experience of being entertained and involved was one that will stay with me.  I have almost never been to a choral or orchestral concert where the conductor didn't say a few words of introduction to the piece.  I recently watched spell-bound as Ralph Allwood introduced an Arvo Part mag and nunc to a lunchtime audience of tourists in a way that they knew what to expect and how to enjoy it - which he followed by herding all the audience into the first few rows, re-forming the choir in a big circle around them for Spem in Alium - what an experience.  Is that showing off or is it really fantastic showmanship?

 

I don't think either of your points have as much to do with performer's ego, showing off or even just simple organ anorakking as you suggest.  I think that, on the whole, anything that can be done to encourage and invite the audience be a part of the action is to be widely applauded, and is quite possibly where the Carlo Curleys and Wayne Marshalls of this world are so successful - I think their choice of music is in many ways entirely a sideline issue.

 

Gosh, I did stir it up, didn't I?

 

All I was saying that you can't please all the people all the time, and that whether or not you like hearing the performer talking is purely a matter of taste. Thus, for every audience member you will please by chatting to them, there will be another who would prefer you to get on with playing the pieces. The precise proportions will depend on the venue: a talk probably goes down better at a church that has only the occasional recital, and where the regular congregation forms the audience, than it does at a cathedral, where the audience tends to be quite knowledgeable.

 

Yes, there are some performers whose introductions are as interesting as their playing - I remember hearing Yehudi Menuhin, for instance, at a pre-concert talk speaking about meeting Bartok, which was gobsmacking. But the rest shouldn't feel they have to speak for the sake of it if they don't have much to say, are going to deliver it in a monotone, or don't know when to shut up. I never again want to go to a recital at which the recitalist introduces each of the TEN pieces on the programme for 3-4 minutes, saying things that were patently incorrect (e.g. that X gave the first performance of this piece by Y, when in fact X died when Y was only eight). Yes, this was a real event, which, having started at 7.30, reached the interval at 9.00 and eventually finished, much to the relief of the exhausted audience, at 10.15. The other difficulty is whether the performer can make himself heard when he speaks. Too often, the audience doesn't catch a word of what was said.

 

Have re-read my post several times, I still can't find the slightest suggestion about showing off or the performer's ego. I didn't have that in mind at all. In fact, I imagine some recitalists would find having a camera at the console quite uncomfortable. On the thread about registrants, Richard McVeigh (I think) mentioned that he prefers to be alone at the console; I wonder if he feels the same about the presence of a video camera?

 

If it came down to a straight choice between talking about the pieces and watching them being played on a screen, I much prefer the latter. I suspect everybody can get something out if it on a number of levels, and it can be an aid to concentration. Anybody who doesn't like it can always sit where they can't see the screen, look elsewhere, or close their eyes. What would be ideal, of course, would be two screens, one showing the performer, the other showing the score :) .

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Gosh, I did stir it up, didn't I?

Yup. About time - it's been getting v. boring here & I was wondering what to do with my Saturday :)

 

A talk probably goes down better at a church that has only the occasional recital, and where the regular congregation forms the audience, than it does at a cathedral, where the audience tends to be quite knowledgeable.

 

Of course - I'm only speaking from personal experience of little lunchtime jobs. Even where knowledge isn't an issue (e.g. the lunchtime series at Truro) it's good to let them have a bit of personality.

 

I never again want to go to a recital at which the recitalist introduces each of the TEN pieces on the programme for 3-4 minutes, saying things that were patently incorrect (e.g. that X gave the first performance of this piece by Y, when in fact X died when Y was only eight).  Yes, this was a real event, which, having started at 7.30, reached the interval at 9.00 and eventually finished, much to the relief of the exhausted audience, at 10.15. 

That's just silly and to be condemned by all. I give it 3 minutes on the first half at the start, and 3 minutes on the second half in the middle, especially after something exhausting. Occasional funnies are good if you can get away with it. David Briggs occasionally will talk for a couple of minutes about Durufle and then say that it doesn't matter really because he's actually going to play Vierne. On one memorable occasion, legend has it he got to a venue, opened the score and found the first two pages of a Bach prelude missing, and then proceeded to inform the audience that a new edition in Bach's own hand had recently been discovered and they would hear it for the first time tonight... DGW also has an amusing anecdote about some poor person in the audience having a heart attack, then her going downstairs to talk for a minute while the ambulance people got on with it, and finding herself trapped like a rabbit in the headlights recounting the manner of Vierne's untimely death at the console.

 

Have re-read my post several times, I still can't find the slightest suggestion about showing off or the performer's ego.  I didn't have that in mind at all. 

"The reason I go to recitals is to hear the organ literature performed - not to to learn about the recitalist or admire his/her physiognomy" was the bit I had in mind - perhaps I misunderstood.

 

What would be ideal, of course,  would be two screens, one showing the performer, the other showing the score  :) .

NOOOOOOOOO..... actually, if a screen with the score on could be put at the console, that would save on page turners. I had a page turner last week who took it upon themselves to change registrations for me (with extremely fast hand movements so I couldn't tell what they were adding) which pissed me off inordinately - so when I pressed the + button on the last chord, it got QUIETER....

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QUOTE(Nick Bennett @ Sep 2 2006, 04:02 PM)

What would be ideal, of course, would be two screens, one showing the performer, the other showing the score .

 

 

And there's me thinking he meant the score as awarded by the audience. Now that would be fun...

 

H

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