Masters of the sound universe

The organists of the Philharmoniker organ concerts

(Photo: Peter Adamik)

From silent films and “Bach pur” to performances by four hands and four feet, the concert organ of the Berlin Philharmonie shows its versatility in the 2016/2017 season. The organ series starts off with Guy Bovet at the console. The Swiss musician is not only a concert organist much in demand all over the world and a specialist in historical organs, but is also a brilliant improviser, excellent composer and keen cineaste. And he will deploy all these talents for his appearance: From the organ of the Philharmonie, he accompanies one of the most impressive documentaries of the 1920s: Walter Ruttmann’s film Berlin – Symphony of a Metropolis, which captures one day in the life the old imperial capital, beginning with the gradual awakening of the city in the morning and the various events and hustle and bustle of the day, to the pleasures of the evening. Bovet acoustically controls this visual symphony. “Because of the registers and stops, everything has to be prepared relatively exactly on the organ,” he explains, “so we are talking about a ʻprepared improvisationʼ. A kind of score is the result, consisting of the themes to be used for each scene and the indication of the exact duration of each episode.”

Together with other instruments

The organ is practically an orchestra in itself. Thanks to its numerous registers, it can produce very different combinations of sounds and colours. Including the choir organ, the organ of the Philharmonie, which comes from the workshop of the Berlin organ builder Karl Schuke, today has more than 88 registers. And so it goes without saying that it is the ambition of every organist to exhaust the sonic possibilities of the instrument as effectively as possible. The Cologne Cathedral organist Winfried Bönig makes his debut at the Berlin Philharmonie with works by Marcel Dupré and Charles Widor, demonstrating the glorious symphonic splendour of the French organ tradition. The concert, whose programme is dedicated to the approaching Christmas celebrations, is given an extra festive touch with the participation of the Brass Ensemble of the Berliner Philharmoniker which, together with Bönig, performs Gaston Litaize’s Cortège for organ, three trumpets and three trombones and Alexandre Guilmant’s March in F major for organ, brass and timpani. With transcriptions for organ and cello, Thomas Ospital, titular organist at Saint-Eustache in Paris since 2015, and the Philharmoniker’s principal cellist Bruno Delepelaire show how well two such contrasting instruments harmonise. The two musicians have several things in common: both are native Frenchmen, are almost the same age, and are also graduates of the Paris conservatoire. It will come as no surprise that the emphasis in their programme is on works by French composers.

Exciting transcriptions

The last two concerts in the series present two works that are not normally associated with the organ: Johann Sebastian Bach originally composed his famous Goldberg Variations for harpsichord. Hansjörg Albrecht, who is not only an organist but also artistic director of the Munich Bach Choir and Bach Orchestra, demonstrates with his arrangement that this composition also sounds excellent on the “king of instruments”. The finale of the series is a performance of Stravinsky’s spectacular ballet Le Sacre du printemps played by Olivier Latry, titular organist at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, and Shin Young Lee. “The idea to transcribe Stravinsky’s score has always interested me,” says Latry. “It’s a very exciting work. We take the version for two pianos as the starting point and clothe it in the colours of the organ.”

Guy Bovet
(Photo: private)
Winfried Bönig
(Photo: private)
(Photo: Mirko Cvjetko) Hansjörg Albrecht
(Photo: Florian Wagner)
Olivier Latry
(Photo: François Badias)
Shin Young Lee
(Photo: private)