Just enjoy! – organist of the Notre-Dame plays from Budapest for the world

We have discussed many times how difficult last year was for musicians. Olivier Latry, however, has had an even longer chain of unlucky events: the virus was preceded by the fire. First, the world famous organist of the Notre-Dame in Paris had to watch how a huge part of the building is destroyed, then not even a whole year later, the pandemic arrived, closing churches and concert halls alike. How did Latry, one of the best organists of our time, overcome these difficulties, and what will he play tonight at an online broadcast that can be seen and heard all around the world? That’s what I asked the French master about.

I’ve read that you give around 300 concerts a year all around the world. I guess the pandemic hit you really hard in this regard. How did you get through the hardest times?

Fortunately for me, I don’t give 300 concerts a year! But with the preparation of the concerts, the travels, etc., I am living in hotel rooms 300 nights a year. The pandemic is quite a hard time, not only because of the lack of concerts, but also because most of the concerts were canceled a week or a few days before. That means that I had to prepare all the repertoire (sometimes only for one specific concert), and couldn’t perform it. But I did other things: research, writing a book, making a recording…

2019 must have been hard for you as well with the burning of the Notre-Dame in Paris. What happened there since then? How did the recoveries affect your work?

The cathedral is now in a restoration process. Everything goes pretty well for the moment, and we still hope that the reopening will happen in April 2024. The organ was taken out last fall, and the restoration will start in the next months, to be ready in 2024. During that time, the cathedral “moved” to the Saint Germain l’Auxerrois church, near the Louvre: priests, choirs, organists, sacristans, everybody! As there is a titular organist in that church, we share the services with him.

At the Müpa concert live broadcast, you will play three pieces by French composers Barié, Dupré and Vierne. Is there anything special about French organ music that you would like the Hungarian/international audience to be aware of?

We don’t need to speak about French organ music: its effect is immediate. I would just say: enjoy!

The only thing that I could say is that those three composers were related: Vierne was the teacher of both Barié and Dupré, who were at the organ class almost the same years. Dupré dedicated one of his preludes and fugue (op. 7 n°2) to Barié.

You have been to the Müpa before. How do you recall your first time being there?

That was a great time! Fifteen years ago already. I remember every moment, especially the concert with my friend Philippe Lefebvre and the improvisation on an Hungarian tune. That was the Organ Inauguration Festival in the Müpa. I also remember the Poulenc and Barber concertos from the previous day. What a joy! And the audience was very receptive. Other concerts (with László Fassang, for example) were also very enjoyable. (Author’s note: both Philippe Lefebvre and Olivier Latry were László Fassang’s teachers in the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Paris.)

There will be two Bach pieces: one is original and one is a transcription of by Widor. Also, Liszt’s piece will be a transcription by Guillou. What motivated these choices?

I like when music keeps moving. Having a transcription or an adaptation of an original piece can be, in some ways, really refreshing. And both Bach and Liszt made a lot of transcriptions themselves. It is just a continuation of their conception of the music.

The final part is an improvisation. After playing six pieces written by other composers, how hard is it to “switch” your mind into this different musical world? Does it require a different mindset, skillset, attitude?

The improvisation might “switch” to another world, but… maybe not! It depends on the mood at that moment. Also, it depends on how much I will be influenced by the music that I just performed, and on the theme of the improvisation itself. The theme will give the harmonic language, the structure, etc. And the sound of the instrument will also influence the whole improvisation. So, it will be… unique! For that moment, on that organ – for those circumstances.

You can watch the concert on the 20th of January 2021, 7:30 pm, at Müpa’s online channels!