The way we play this instrument is like conducting a whole orchester

Christmas Organ Concert: Monika Melcová and the choirs of the Zoltán Kodály Hungarian Choral School, Müpa, 12.12.2018, 7:30 pm

Less than three days, less than seventy-two hours of miracle, it’s just started but already over again. Although we wait for this all day long. Could it be that not Christmas is most important but the Advent? Could it be better for our soul to get into the feast gradually, letting it slowly in our everyday life, lighting more and more candles and opening more and more little windows, rather than letting everything only for these three last days? I don’t say it’s an easy part of the year – I know exactly how vulnerable and lost you feel when you sing in a dark space where only the sound of an organ can lead you forwards on a way invisible for the eye. On the third Advent week, we can hear members of the Kodály Zoltán Hungarian Choir School like this, accompanied by a world-class organist, Monika Melcová, who has been travelling around the globe. I talked to her about this concert, the specialty of the organ, and Christmas.

You already got to know the piano and the organ with five years. Why did you choose the latter as your main instrument?

As it was usual those days, I started the piano with five. The organ came later when I started my studies at the Kosice Conservatory with thirteen. There are many reasons why I chose this instrument; it’s hard to explain all. Curiosity surely played a role, and I was already aware as a child how many awesome places can organists visit. That worked out, indeed – imagine, for instance, that you get a key to an enormous cathedral, or that you are allowed to roam in Versailles late at night at places where tourists never go. This profession is incredibly exciting, and it already captured my attention as a child. Of course, I found it fantastic that every organ is different, you can hear completely new sounds, hundreds of years of music is awaken, and there are all these historical organs, still working today, all around the world… What else could be equivalent to this?

Is there a difference between playing the organ in a church or in a concert hall? Does the space influence the acoustic, the technique, the sound?

The acoustic is definitely influenced, and this is the real art in playing an organ, that’s what makes our instrument special. We actually conduct a whole orchestra, this is the greatest in our work. Yes, it is not only one instrument, it is many. We have to control the touchés, play on the keyboard, and everything should sound together, so that the audience hears a completely clear music. It is a new discovery every time.

You play with three choirs in the Müpa. What was your first reaction when the request came? Do you have a different strategy if you prepare for a solo or a joint concert?

I don’t think that it’s another strategy. We play together, and I take it for granted that I also have a role and a responsibility in a joint work. Chamber music, continuo, accompanying a choir is all good: it helps a musician to develop, to stay open.

How will this concert be organized? Will you accompany the choirs, play solos, will the choir sing a cappella? What is your favourite from this repertoire, if there is any?

The choirs also took part in the organization, just like László Fassang who introduced me the idea of such a musical project. Thanks to the joint work, a lovely programme came to be in the end. There will be a cappella pieces, organ and choir together, solo organ pieces and organ improvisation. I can’t really pick a favourite one, but I will be definitely happy to play the Bach E Dur Preludium BWV 566, a merry, brilliant and virtuosic piece. It’s funny that I’ve played this for a very long time, it was even recorded sometimes, and I can see how I developed as a musician throughout the years. Not only how I became better, but generally, how I changed. It’s important to face this from time to time.

How do you prepare for Christmas? Do you have any Christmas tradition or story, from your musical or private life, that you would reveal to the readers?

When I lived in Paris, my parents visited me every year. Back then, I worked as a titular organist of the Saint Martin des Champs church with a small Cavaillé Coll organ. Just like for most colleagues, I spent Christmas mostly with music. Since I’ve been in Spain, it’s different: I visit my mother in Slovakia, and our time together is calm and slow. We go to theatre, to opera in Vienna or Bratislava – such a Christmas makes me relaxed and energized. At the end of the year, I usually visit a European country with my friends, always a different one.

One Christmas was special in my life. In used to live in Japan back then, but I spent the feast days in Vienna. My plane just arrived at the airport on 24 December; I was full with stories of Japan and my life there. I was much younger than now, and in that moment of my arrival I thanked God that I can live this kind of life. That was when I realized how much luck I have with this wonderful profession.