The storming organ playing of Martin Sturm at the Liszt Fest

Franz Liszt’s great organ works will be performed by the young German virtuoso Martin Sturm on 10 October at the Liszt Fest International Cultural Festival. One of the most important international ambassadors of the organ, the youngest professor at the Weimar Academy of Music will play the magnificent, richly coloured sounding organ of the St. Teresa of Avila Parish Church, next to the Academy of Music.

The organ can only be described in superlatives. It is the largest of instruments: it has countless stop handles, pedals, keys and switches, and of course, not to mention its pipes, the smallest of which is the size of a half-broken pencil, while the largest can be almost ten metres long. The number of pipes is incredible: the largest organ ever built, the Midmer-Losh in Atlantic City, New Jersey, for example, had 33,000 pipes.

The organ is most often associated with religious music – almost everyone has experienced the magic of entering a church with the music of an invisible organist filling the room – but it can also be used to play romantic pieces, impressionist music, or even jazz or rock. And for film enthusiasts, the unmistakable atmosphere of Count Dracula and the chillingly titillating vampire stories will be clearly evoked when the whistles sound: Bach’s popular D minor toccata and fugue will chill the blood and bring the whitewashed face of Béla Lugosi to life.

The organist is usually invisible, sitting up in a hidden corner somewhere in the church gallery, and in the concert halls he plays with his back to the audience. When he plays with others, he can only see the conductor and the others through a small mirror. The organist is therefore often completely overshadowed, which is why there are not many among them whose name is widely known (although in Hungary we once had Xavér Varnus, who promoted his instrument to thousands of people at his concerts, with a repertoire ranging from Bach to Star Wars).

In Germany, however, a young artist has recently emerged who has mastered the instrument so charismatically that he has been invited to teach at a music academy at the age of 21. Martin Sturm (whose surname, appropriately enough for his instrument, means “storm”), winner of numerous international music competitions, has given highly successful concerts all over the world. Since 2019 he has been Professor of Organ and Improvisation at the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music in Weimar, the youngest professor ever appointed to the post. Sturm is not yet 30, but he is a regular guest at the most important master classes and is regularly consulted all over the world on the construction of new organs and the restoration of old instruments.

His brilliant improvisational talent and virtuoso playing have been admired at countless festivals and in the most prestigious concert halls. Sturm is equally feels at home with modern instruments and the famous, centuries-old pipes of the organ, but he has also made his mark as a composer, having been commissioned to write his own works by the John Cage Foundation in Halberstadt and the Monteverdi Choir in Würzburg, among others. A versatile artist, he plays not only organ, but also harpsichord and clavichord, and from time to time he also performs as a jazz pianist.

“In our complex world there will always be a need for a complex universe of organ sound”

– said the organist, whose virtuosity the audience will soon discover in Budapest. Martin Sturm will be playing the organ of the St. Teresa of Avila Parish Church at the Liszt Fest International Cultural Festival, which is being held to mark the 210th anniversary of the birth of Franz Liszt.

The Programme:

Liszt: Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen – variations on the theme of Bach
Improvisation – Albumblatt
Liszt: Am Grabe Richard Wagners (At Richard Wagner’s Grave) – arranged for organ
Improvisation – Metamorphosis
Liszt: Christus – Tu es Petrus – arranged for organ
Improvisation – Symphonic sketches on Dante’s Divina Commedia

Article: Zsuzsanna Deák

Translation: Nóra Fehér