Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 260, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. And today, Ausra and I are going to talk a little bit about our recent trip to London, to play at St. Pauls Cathedral. Are you feeling rested, yet, Ausra?
A: Well, yes. I feel better now.
V: Yes. It was a strenuous trip. So what do you think about it? What’s the first idea that comes to mind?
A: About London, or about organ, or about St. Pauls Cathedral?
V: Both. All. All of it.
A: Well, I didn’t like London.
V: You didn’t?
A: Yes. I did not.
V: So, that’s your main idea about it.
A: Yes. Compared to Paris (laughs). It’s nothing to compare, actually. I just think London has many beauties but in terms of the whole feeling of the city, everything seems so eclectic, that those nice buildings seems lost for me. And all that modern eclectic styles.
V: How did you like the weather?
A: Well, it went to extremes. Because on the day that we arrived, temperature reached almost I think, 36 degrees plus, Celsius. (Ed note: 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit). That’s extremely hot.
V: And that day on Friday, we spent about six hours on the bus—Golden Tours bus—driving through London on the roof of that bus. And luckily we had some water to drink but not enough, so we had to jump off the bus and buy some water. And there were some traffic jams all over the city and we were moving very, very slowly. It was good for taking pictures of course, but not as good for the tour I think.
A: I know. So for me, it seems like London is a strange place. On the other hand, British tried to preserve their traditions so strongly, to keep the queen and the royal family, and Buckingham Palace. But on the other hand we built the glass skyscraper next to the historical building so it sort of an interesting way of living. Don’t you think so?
V: I guess you have to get used to that landscape, of the city. Once you get used to it, it doesn’t bother probably people.
A: Well, but let’s talk about St. Pauls Cathedral a little bit. It’s a marvelous building. It’s really amazing.
V: It’s just too bad that people can’t locate it from the, I don’t know, maybe 200 meters distance to cover it all. Because tall buildings are quite near to the cathedral and there is not much space to look at it from the distance. Surely you could look at the cathedral from the other side of the river, from the Thames...
A: Yes I think that’s the best way...
V: But it’s a little bit to far, right?
A: I know.
V: And you want to have the full feeling of the building closer up. So, I think we found a shady place to sit on the bench, on the corner of the cathedral, and it wasn’t that hot in the shade, so that was nice. What did you think about the inside of the cathedral when we went to practice later in the evening?
A: Well, to me it’s an amazing building. It’s enormous size, enormous height, and I don’t think I had been in a place so magnificent before.
V: What about Notre Dame in Paris?
A: Well you get a completely different feeling, because Notre Dame is a Gothic building.
V: And darker.
A: Yes, and completely different structure. It gets a completely different feeling.
A: But like in Paris, I felt like I’m at home, actually. Although I don’t know French, although it was my first time in Paris, if I felt like home. Everything seemed so familiar. And talking about Notre Dame, when we went there to the vespers, I felt like I was attending Vespers every night. Sort of everything was so familiar.
V: We went to listen to Evensong, just before the concert on Sunday, to St. Paul’s Cathedral. And comparing to Notre Dame, I didn’t enjoy it as much. Did you?
A: Me too! Me too, yes.
V: Although the musical tradition was great there, amazing cathedral choir was visiting...
A: From Seattle.
V: From Seattle, for the weekend, and they performed evensongs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, high quality music, high quality singing. But somehow the feeling was different from Paris, don’t you think?
A: Oh yes! Very much different. I enjoyed the Gregorian Chant at the Notre Dame Cathedral much more. And I think at Notre Dame vespers were shorter than evensongs here, in London. And I found some very funny things, actually. Because, for example, when the choir sang Magnificat—and it was actually well developed composition by an original composer—but people had to stand up and listen to it. And it was a long composition. And I found it really strange.
V: I don’t know why they do this. Maybe it’s part of the liturgy somehow.
A: I know Magnificat is part of the liturgy, but it wasn’t just the Magnificat, it was an original composition, well developed and very long. Not like original Magnificat from the liturgy should be.
V: Apart from these things, do you think that, for example, the organ, at St. Paul’s, was worth the trouble going there?
A: Yes, it was worth the trouble going there, but let’s say that I prefer mechanical action, tracker action. And this one is not, what I like best.
V: You have to know what kind of music sounds best. But I was surprised how nicely Bach sounded there. How nicely Mozart and Beethoven sounded there. Let’s talk a little bit about the program that we played, right?
A: Well, if I would go over second time, which I think I will not do, but I would chose the program differently. I didn’t like too much our selection of music, except maybe of your Fantasy, based on the theme of Čiurlionis.
V: For me the program was very nice. And look what people said to us, and how they reacted. How many people came to the recital, do you think?
A: I would think, 300, maybe.
V: Yeah. So, nice crowd. And those people who came up to us afterwards, were, I think, particularly happy. And we talked about that, about the program, about their experience, and interestingly, we met, I think two people from the readers of this blog, right, ‘Secrets of Organ Playing’, Brian and Mike, who came to this recital. It was really surprising and a nice moment.
A: True, true, very nice.
V: To meet our fans in person.
A: And there were also some Lithuanians who came out to the recital. That was especially nice, at least for me. Almost made me cry.
V: Because you know, there are probably tens of thousands of Lithuanians living in England, and they emigrate from Lithuania for a variety of reasons; for lack of decent job opportunities, for lack of respect, for the person don’t feel at home. And you have to understand that somehow those people get lonely without their country, right? Sure they have their community, but it sometimes, especially on festivities and solemn occasions, they might get lonely. And when they see somebody from their country visiting, let’s say, England, they get really emotional.
A: True. True. And it really touched your soul.
V: Although my music wasn’t particular Lithuanian—it was Fantasia on the themes by Čiurlionis—but Čiurlionis of course created his preludes, differently. I just took the themes and mixed them up, used different rhythmical ideas from them, changed the modes frequently. I don’t think it was particularly Lithuanian character, what I did with this Fantasia, but for them it was Lithuanian enough, you know. Because it was on the program, Čiurlionis, Lithuania, and they got really sensitive about the feelings and one person even I guess, had some tears on his face.
V: Ausra, you don’t think that this program worked well for this organ?
A: Well, I think it worked okay. That’s my opinion.
V: And I was quite happy, actually, how much of Beethoven and Bach worked. We played at the beginning, a four-hand Sonata by Mozart in D Major. It has three movements; fast, slow and fast. And later we played Beethoven’s Adagio from the ‘Suite For Mechanical Clock’, which was followed by the third movement of the first Brandenburg Concerto by Bach. So obviously, mechanical action organ, was ideal for those sort of pieces. But I really can repeat myself saying that I was surprised. Maybe the registration was done well, or the texture was elegant and not too polyphonically complex, that it worked in this amazing building with at least eight seconds of reverberation.
A: Well actually before going where I was afraid of acoustics, of what it might bother me too much. But actually I didn’t feel it so much.
V: You didn’t feel?
A: Yes. And in general the feeling I got about seeing that instrument is very strange. That proves it to me was the feeling that I got at Eastern Michigan University at Pease Auditorium, where we have that wonderful Aeolian/Skinner instrument. I don’t why but the feeling was a little bit similar.
V: Maybe this is because of the action, but...
A: Yes because of the action.
V: But acoustics and colors are different.
A: Yes, true, but somehow it felt a little bit similar, that feeling.
V: I’ll you what’s similar: I felt similarly in Detroit, St. Pauls Cathedral, also Anglican.
A: Well I felt better in Detroit, actually.
V: Mmm-hmm. So, you see guys, we are so different, right? We both like mechanical action organs, but Ausra is more purist in this way, and for me, it was, it sounded surprisingly well, this kind of program. And if I had to repeat this program, I could do it without changing anything too much. Because people deserve to hear baroque music or Mozart or Beethoven.
A: Yes, but luckily we haven’t played any fugues. I think fugues would be disaster on that instrument.
V: That’s true. That’s part of the reason we didn’t choose polyphonically complex music, because we were experienced enough to know how the pieces will interact with the amazing acoustical environment there. The texture will be lost there, I think. So, yeah, later type of music, Romantic and Modern would sound best. Or orchestral transcriptions from earlier times would sound also well. So that’s what we did. Brandenburg Concerto is an orchestral piece, and lighter texture, not so polyphonic. And classical texture from Mozart and Beethoven fits well the building too.
A: I think Elgar would sound best on this instrument, "Pomp And Circumstance".
V: Obviously, yes, everything that has not more than three layers of musical melodies. For example, when we played Fantasia that I created, it has a melody, it has a counter-melody that (the) second player plays, and it has accompaniment. So three layers and they both, they all interact with each other nicely and not to difficult to understand. If it was a fugue in four voices, and those voices would move equally, then, I think for this building, it might be too complex, right? Or you would need to create some kind of performing miracle to do it justice, for it.
A: So, what was the most interesting experience for you from this all trip?
V: Now that you mention, I think that evening when we were finishing the rehearsal on Friday, or Saturday, it was Saturday, yeah.
A: Saturday night.
V: Saturday night, we were getting ready to go to the hotel, and we couldn’t find the exit.
A: Yes. We had to leave through the basement, where the guards are located. And we could not find the exit so we were wandering all those sarcophagus (laughs) and rest in peace of all those things. And seeing those people that are buried in this magnificent cathedral. And I thought maybe we will have to just spend the night next to them.
V: Right. But somehow we, after a few round trips through the cathedral, we were lucky to find the gap and opening and go out the right way. So to end this conversation, Ausra, I think it’s time for us to say thanks to the organ scholar, who showed us around on Sunday—Nicholas Freestone.
V: And he will be leaving the cathedral very soon but he helped us a lot. And also James Orford, organ scholar there, who met us on Saturday night to introduce us to the organ. He came from Liverpool from his concert there. And we were grateful that he introduced us to this instrument, and it facilitated our practice a lot.
V. Too bad that St Paul's Cathedral doesn't allow to make recordings so we can't show you how it sounded. They don't even allow to take photos (we took a few of them anyway so that we would have something to remember because we were not tourists). We actually bought a set of postcards and a couple of CD's with music from St Paul's there.
A. But they charge people to enter the Cathedral (entrance to the recitals is free, though). Seems not a good way to do marketing in this digital age. Sort of backward-looking. When everybody had to buy postcards or CD's a generation or two before. Because if you can't take pictures or make videos, you can't show them to your friends. If you can't show them to your friends, the word about this cathedral and its influence will not spread as far as it could.
V: Thank you guys. This was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: Please send us more of your questions. If you have any questions that we didn’t talk about our concert trip, that would be nice to get. And we hope you will practice today, right? Because, when you practice...
A: Miracles happen!
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Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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