Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 162 of Ask Vidas and Ausra podcast. Today’s question was sent in by John who is preparing for his upcoming April recital in our church, at Vilnius University St John’s church and he asks the following question:
It would be wonderful to hear you and Ausra to speak about how you prepare for an overseas recital where you haven't played the organ before and you don't know any of the people or their culture.
It’s difficult to say about the future although in July we will be playing in London, St. Paul’s Cathedral. But let’s talk a little bit about the past experiences right?
V: Last summer we played where? In Sweden.
A: In Sweden and then in Poland at the beginning of September.
V: OK. So how did we prepare for the Sweden experience?
A: Well you know how it is when you have internet and you have so many valuable sources and you can find out about instruments you will be playing. Quite a lot of information. But of course, the smart thing to do would be just to contact the local organist and ask him or her about the instrument.
V: I suspect that when a person is scheduled to play a recital they will contact the organist anyway, right?
V: And ask about the instrument and the style of the instrument or course. The organist might send the disposition of the stops or specification and pictures of the stop layout.
A: It’s not that you will have a lot of time to practice the instrument that you will be performing as we had actually in Stockholm. And it was real nice. But even if don’t have much time or almost no practice time on that organ you can still do your registration.
V: In advance.
A: In advance, yes, if you have the specification for that particular instrument you can write it all down in the score before even practicing on the real instrument.
V: And, when you go to the local organ there, when you arrive at the church or the instrument, then of course you will need to check and correct some things because you might be wrong or off in a few places but maybe not in the majority of places.
A: Yes, and the most important thing is to choose your repertoire wisely and what I mean by saying this is you have to know what kind of music will fit and will work on that instrument. Because you know you might want to play a piece by Messiaen but the organ may not be suited for that. So you really need to select your repertoire carefully. Because you know if you will select your repertoire well then things will work out well too.
V: There are two kinds of organists in the world who tour and play international recitals. One kind of organist plays on generic instruments and plays the same program over and over for one year. And then during some off months they would learn a new repertoire for the next year and then they schedule the next tour, global tour, world tour, and they do the same in different places but basically playing the same repertoire over and over. But we have to remember they normally select only the generic instruments. Not necessarily romantic ones or not necessarily baroque instruments. They’re sort of mixed instruments where you could play in a rather satisfactory manner a lot of different music.
A: Well, like in Sweden there was no instrument that was suited for really baroque music.
A: Because you had meantone tuning so basically you could not let’s say play like Bach and do for example like Prelude and Fugue in F Minor. It wouldn’t work for instrument like this.
V: Yes, advanced keys don’t sound well.
A: So, we selected repertoire like composers like Sweelinck and Scheidemann, Praetorius and these worked very well on that instrument. But for example when we went to Poland where we played on the baroque instrument but from late Baroque times.
A: That instrument is sort of a contemporary of Bach.
V: Hildebrandt organ in Paslek.
A: Yes. So we selected baroque music mainly but we selected, you know, late Baroque music like Bach Brandenburg Concerto for example and we also did some contemporary music too.
V: Because even in early style instrument you could play some contemporary music which is written in a very light style. It would have to be a very transparent style, not fixed chords, not very dissonant. But we played our friend, Dutch composer Ad Wammes and his style is…
V: He wouldn’t agree actually. He says his music style is influenced by symphonic rock which has this minimalistic drive. But is not like Philip Glass.
A: I just can make a joke you know about any composer. If he or she thinks that no, he or she composed a piece and everybody has to think about that piece as he or she thinks. That’s wrong. You know it’s like a baby since you’ve adopted, just let it go and let it live his or her own life. The same is with a piece of music. If I’m playing this music and I see minimalistic features, that’s my opinion and nobody can take it away from me.
V: I didn’t mean to take away your opinion, of course. I just wanted to say that Ad Wammes was influenced not by let’s say Steve Reich or Philip Glass but from the music by symphonic rock composers.
A: It just means that that style also has minimalism in it.
V: It has similar features.
A: Because they have those repetitions over again so how else would you call it if not minimalism? It doesn’t matter where picked it up it is still minimalism.
V: We have to double check where Philip Glass got his influence.
A: Yes, that’s true. Because likely I would see half of Lithuanian composers. They are very minimalistic. It’s fairly common in Lithuania to use a minimalistic style. I also don’t think we were influenced by Reich or Glass. Maybe we were influenced by Goretsky maybe or I don’t know, Taverner, Part maybe.
V: I bet Philip Glass had some influence taken from rock music, synth rock too.
A: Could be. Because everything is all mixed up and all criss-cross.
V: It’s called crossover music. Excellent. So, it’s really a matter of having well rounded taste in music when you select your pieces for unfamiliar instruments. Right? The more experience you have with playing different kind of styles, different kinds of music, and different kinds of instruments, the more you can adjust and see which will work and which won’t work.
A: That’s true. I think it’s also very important to keep in mind that first of all, you need to show the best qualities of the organ, of the instrument itself and not your own skill.
V: You don’t mean you have to play music that you don’t like.
A: Well, no. That’s not what I meant.
V: For example if you didn’t like early music at all would you play in Stockholm, the German church where we played last summer, on the Duben instrument from the 17th century, replica of that 17th century organ.
A: No. you shouldn’t even play such an instrument if don’t like that music.
V: You wouldn’t play Reubke Sonata there if you liked Reubke so much.
A: No, oh no. That’s a thing of being an organist, you need to show the best qualities of the instrument.
V: Right. So, you have to have the right variety of favorite styles, as many as you can. Don’t try to be a one-sided organist unless you want to have very limited choices of what to play.
A: I don’t know there are many instruments in the world where you can play anything. The trouble with those instruments is that for my ear, for my taste, nothing sounds right on them.
V: On a generic concert instrument.
A: That’s my personal opinion, I don’t know what you think about it.
V: It’s easy to play. It has combination action and pistons and multiple levels of memory. You can set in advance your combination and with the push of a button, you can do all kinds of loud and soft contrast. It is much easier for the player. But, as you say the music loses some color. Especially early type of music created before 19th century.
A: I know, it is just like cooking. And using for example with each dish you are cooking you would use the same spices. Anything would taste similar.
V: There are some restaurants like that.
A: I know, especially those chain restaurants.
V: Of course some people will not agree with us. Especially those who like concept instruments. But that’s OK. We don’t try to force our opinion on them. We just share what we think. What we like. It is not necessarily the true way. Right? In organ there is no true way. Because every instrument is different and you can try many things and see what works well.
A: But I think you know if you would listen to historical instruments, if you would have a chance to play one yourself, I think even people who just play generic instruments, even their opinion might change.
V: Exactly. Sometimes we receive letters from people who disagree with us that early music should be played without heels. And then I ask them if they ever played historical instrument or a copy of a historical instrument and the answer was “No.” So before even probably stating that playing early music with toes only is a nonsense, that it couldn’t be done virtuosically enough. You have to try for yourself that kind of instrument and see if you can satisfactorily with heels. And the answer will be…
A: No. So you can argue but it’s like you know how can they tell if snails are tasty. I have never tried them so. I cannot discuss that question.
V: Some people will not even try snails.
A: I know.
V: They dislike the idea of eating snails.
A: I know. I wouldn’t try them myself.
V: Because you know how they are prepared. It’s cruel.
A: It’s just awful.
V: So, for John and other people who will be traveling abroad and playing unfamiliar instruments the number one advice from my side probably would be to think over you repertory choices and if it fits the instrument well. What would your recommendation be Ausra?
A: Well, you know if you are traveling to an unfamiliar organ, if you know that you will not have much time to practice on it, just choose easy pieces. Don’t try to put the hardest pieces that you have in your repertoire to play for that particular recital. Choose easy repertoire. You will just benefit from it.
V: Especially if you don’t have a lot of time to rehearse on that instrument so better to choose pieces that you has played a lot of times.
A: Yes, and that you feel safe and comfortable playing them. It will give you less stress during performance on that unfamiliar organ.
V: Memorize your piece.
V: And prepare your registrations in advance.
A: That’s true.
V: Then you will save time and then you spend quality time on the actual organ that’s given to you at the moment. So, thank you guys for listening. We are going to play some organ music now and we hope you do the same. Because remember when you practice…
A: Miracles happen.
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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