This season’s opening concert of the Philharmoniker’s organ series joins in the Reformation jubilee celebrations: the organ accompanies the silent film Luther. This epic 1927 film, produced by director Hans Kyser, captures the career of Martin Luther – a cinematic document that lay untouched in the depths of the German Federal Archive for many years, and has now been extensively restored for the jubilee year. The musical accompaniment is provided by Thierry Escaich who since 1997 has been titular organist at the St-Étienne-du-Mont church in Paris where Louis Couperin and Marcel Duruflé used to play. He is not only an excellent organist, but also an ingenious improviser and composer, and as such has exactly the right qualities to illustrate the dramatic events surrounding Martin Luther. “My music will be responsible for portraying the tensions and rivalries,” he says. “As a composer, the stronger the psychological relationships between the characters, the greater my inspiration. It’s like setting a good opera libretto.”
Homage to Martin Luther
The second concert in the series also has a connection to Martin Luther, with an arrangement of the finale of Felix Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony for organ and brass, performed by Arvid Gast and the brass ensemble of the Berliner Philharmoniker. The titular organist of Lübeck’s Jakobikirche and the Philharmoniker’s brass players also present the Allegro from Charles-Marie Widor’s Symphony No. 6 and Giacomo Puccini’s Preludio sinfonico. Arvid performs solo in works by César Franck, Louis Vierne and Johann Sebastian Bach. In Ton Koopman’s organ matinee, he transports the audience to the Baroque period. The programme of the organist, harpsichordist, conductor and musicologist features composers who are especially close to his heart and whose works he has served particularly well: Johann Sebastian and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Dieterich Buxtehude.
In the last two concerts, two organists of the younger generation sit at the console of the Karl Schuke organ: Kit Armstrong, who already appeared as a pianist in Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation concerts in 2014, makes his debut at the organ this year showing the symphonic qualities of the instrument with Edward Elgar’s G major Organ Sonata, Franz Liszt’s Fantasia and Fugue on the chorale “Ad nos, ad salutarem undam”, plus his own transcription of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Fantasia and Fugue in C major. Nathan Laube, who was already a guest in the series in 2015, also knows how to treat the organ like an orchestra. This is shown in his transcription of Johannes Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture and Felix Mendelssohn’s Variations sérieuses. Another highlight of his matinee is the performance of Paul Hindemith’s Kammermusik Nr. 7 for organ and chamber orchestra which Nathan Laube performs together with the students of the Karajan Academy.