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Novel Bach: young organ players from Gnessin School performed in the Netherlands

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Novel Bach: young organ players from Gnessin School performed in the Netherlands


Inessa Filatova

The Novel Bach, an interesting musical project, has been finished in the Netherlands. It was aimed to introduce young Russian organ players (15 to 18 y.o.) to Dutch public, to demonstrate masterly level of their performance talent and to give the youth a unique opportunity to take part in master classes of famous organ players of Europe, to play on time-honoured organs, and also to perform with their peers from theSweelinck National academyfor exceptionally gifted young musicians at the Amsterdam Conservatory.

Mecca for organ players

Photo credit: Nadia Eliseeva / Facebook

Participants of the project included Stefanida Yermolaeva, Sofia Krasnaya and Elizaveta Khisina, students at theGnessin Moscow Special Music School, as well as Maria Eugenia Pedano (voice), Anushka Pedano (viola) and Mike van Dyk (violin), students of theSweelinckAcademy. Young organ players from Moscow visited concerts of famous European maestros, studied how organ, their favorite musical instrument, developed and changed during several centuries, worked at master classes, rehearsals and concerts with Dutch musicians.

"Holland is a real paradise for organ players. There are about 1700 time-honored instruments preserved in good condition here. Such instruments represent important part of the country’s cultural heritage. For example, the organ in the Church of Saint Bavo, Haarlem, is the oldest organ in Europe. Mendelssohn, Handel and ten-year-old Mozart played on it ,” tells Nadya Eliseeva, the organizer of the project and the head of the Young Talents Foundation. “Therefore, the program of our project was designed so that our young people were able to give concerts and also take part in the famous Dutch festival of organ music in Alkmaar. Such experience is very important for Russian organ players, because it provides them with a unique opportunity to test real time-honored organs within the environment of real church acoustics. Such organs are rare in Russia, and very few students have access to them. During the week of our project, the girls played on 12 (!) organs. And every day they play on different ones. Such experience is truly unique for them.

For us, the project turned out to be very useful, intense and somewhat complex, says Maria Cherepanova, a teacher of Russian musicians . Surely, students of our school have been fortunate to practice on a pipe organ since relatively recent time, but we still do not have such a number of instruments per square meter in Russia. And for us such project is exposure to acoustics, experience with instruments of various styles and different ages, ability to quickly pack, relocate and play in a new place. Our students , of course , are very pleased ; they have amazing experience. This week girls have probably seen more organs than they saw in their entire life."

In music language

According to Maria Cherepanova, the girls had every hour of theirs planned. They prepared two different programs for the project: one for concerts, another one for master classes.

Those are completely different things. And they played different program at each master class. Each of the students brought a pack of works. We gave three concerts (in Alkmaar, Leiden and The Hague) and had two master classes every day in different churches and with different teachers. We had time just to eat, sleep and move to another city. Plus we had extra concerts. The program was very intense. The girls had to adapt to the instrumentalists, which had been completely unknown to them and were first time seen at a rehearsal just the day before performance. They had to overcome the language barrier and learn to understand each other through music. In such a case the music appeared as a kind of additional language, as a unifying factor."

Photo credit: Nadia Eliseeva / Facebook

Novel Bach

The unique concert program was prepared for this project. It included Bach music that sounded in new, unexpectedly bright arrangements for organ and chamber ensembles. Even one premiere took place .

We opened our concert program with Back to Bach by J.S. Michat, which was performed in such version for the first time. It was actually a premiere, says Vitaly Vitulya, the artistic director of the Novel Bach project . Because it is a sonata for saxophone and piano. But we re-arranged it for organ and sent it to the composer. The composer approved such arrangement, and now, for the first time, the version for organ was performed. This work goes from the present to the past and ends with the classical aria by Bach. That is the reason the Novel Bach got its name. The combination of organ and saxophone is something fresh because it embraces different ages. But these instruments are related ones; they both are of wind type. And since the saxophone is the closest wind instrument to the voice, its sound as a voice in combination with an organ is very graceful.

What I really like about this project is that we play together a lot. We are looking for some new colors and during rehearsals we change a lot: each new organ brings different colors, different music, other registers. This is what experience is all about . It is not about touching the relics, but rather the process.

Students impressions

Liza Khisina (the youngest participant, 15 years old) and Sophia Krasnaya (18 years old) shared their experience of participation in the project.

Sophia: It's great that there are so many time-honoured organs in the Netherlands! There are much more of here them than in Russia, because the main religion in Russia is Orthodox, and organs are not used in it. There was a lot to see, and we managed to play on 12 different organs!

Liza: I liked the large organ in Grote Kerk in Alkmaar the most! It is very powerful and its sound in the big church is really beautiful .

Sophia: Yes, there are two organs there, one is small, and another is large. The small organ is one of the oldest, if not the oldest one in Europe. Probably it impressed me the most; it is very different from all the organs I played on before .

Photo credit: Nadia Eliseeva / Facebook

Liza: We met with a lot of musicians and many organ players; we attended their master classes. It was very interesting, because we study in a Russian school, and, of course, we have a very different approach to ancient music. And the most difficult was to adjust to the instrument. If you do not play in large halls often enough, then it is very difficult to adjust to the acoustics.

Sophia: Yes, because they all sound differently, and acoustics is also different, and this is one of the key points in performance. Here, for example, the acoustics is strong enough and echo is long enough too, so you need to play more clear and even the tempo needs to be changed at some points. And in case of halls with drier acoustics, they play faster and in more conjunct way.

Liza: I was the youngest participant. At first I was a little afraid, but then I got used to things, and I really liked it. I experienced a little inconvenience, because I do not know English, only German, and master classes were given in English.

Sophia: In fact, age of participants varied greatly. Lisa was the youngest one, and the oldest participant was an elderly person. If we talk about master classes and these teachers, sometimes we performed the same work to different professors, and it was very interesting to listen to what each of them would say about interpretation and about the work in general, and then think which of the opinions you feel more related to. Their words were different, sometimes even opposite, but none of them could be considered wrong.

Liza: We visited Zaandam, Leiden and The Hague. We went to different churches in Alkmaar. We now have a lot of experience - we played on different instruments. Now it will be easier to adapt to instruments in Russia.

Sophia: And not only in Russia. I think the more instruments you see, the easier it is for you to adapt later.

The girls visited the Netherlands for the first time. In addition to organs, they adored canals and rivers, clean air and beautiful architecture.

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