Sunday, April 7, 2013

Experiment the key to French organist's recital

Olivier Latry, the Notre Dame Cathedral organist.

In tune: Oliver Latry at the organ console in Notre Dame Cathedral. Photo: Supplied

The great Gothic cathedral of Notre Dame is one of the busiest tourist destinations in Paris, with more than 14 million visitors every year. At any given time there might be 3000 people inside the main church.

"It's a bit like a railway station," Olivier Latry, the cathedral's organist, said. "It's better to practise in the evening when the cathedral is closed. And being alone in the cathedral is quite something."

Latry, who is in Sydney to give an organ recital on Sunday at Sydney University's Great Hall, was appointed Titular Organist of Notre Dame de Paris in 1985, when he was just 23.

He is one of three organists on staff who play the Great Organ, an immense edifice boasting five keyboards and 8000 pipes (twice as many as the organ inside the Great Hall).

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It is played during Sunday services and on ceremonial occasions such as state funerals. Latry and his colleagues also give regular concerts during the year.

But being an organist at Notre Dame means much more than playing music.

"You have the weight of previous organists on your shoulders," Latry says.

Organists like the legendary Louis Vierne, who held the position for 37 years and died in the organ loft, struck down by a heart attack as he gave his 1750th concert.

The Great Organ is built into the walls and the building itself becomes part of the instrument, bouncing the sound around the cavernous space for a full seven seconds after the organist stops playing. "It's like being in a violin," Latry says.

With so many variables to play with, finding the right sound is a time-consuming process. On an organ Latry does not know, such as the one in Sydney University's Great Hall where he will play on Sunday night, it might take him up to 20 hours of experimentation.

"It is the job of the organist to reconstruct the aesthetic," Latry says. "Playing differently with the hands, the apertures … there are different ways.''

You can hear the results of his experiments Olivier Latry will perform at Sydney University on Sunday, 7pm. Tickets, $30, available in the Quadrangle from 5pm (cash only). Children 16 and under with ticketed adult, free. The evening begins with a free carillon recital in the Quadrangle at 5pm.


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