From the 8th to the 12th of January 2020, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Louis Vierne, an Organ Academy was held in Hamburg. More than 60 international participants came together for a Master Class with the Titular Organist of Notre Dame, Paris, Olivier Latry, in which they were to learn interpretation hints on playing the music of Vierne and other representatives of the French symphonic organ tradition. The 5-day course was organised by Michael Grüber (Kulturmanagement ORGANpromotion).

Olivier Latry, one of the world's leading organists, was able to teach the participants in his own masterful but also humorous way and lead them closer to the French organ world of the late 19th . and early 20th century. He continually underlined his explanations in an impressive way by spontaneously playing parallel passages from other works He also enriched his performances with anecdotes about the French organist personalities. As well as Vierne, the Organ Academy focussed on compositions of his teachers, César Franck and Charles-Marie Widor. Vierne only enjoyed a short period under César Franck then moved after his death in 1890 to Franck's successor Charles-Marie Widor; In 1900 he became Titular Organist at Notre-Dame Paris, an office that he held for 37 years until his death.

French symphonic organ music and Hamburg. Do they go together? When Olivier Latry was asked about an alternative location for the Louis Vierne course after the fire at Notre Dame, he spontaneously chose the organ built by the firm of Kuhn (Switzerland) for the Church of St. John in Hamburg-Altona. Their old organ had been totally destroyed by fire in 1994 and they decided on a new-build orientated on the French symphonic sound-world of organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll . The three-manual organ, completed in 1998 has 48 registers, thus offering superb possibilities for interpreting the works of Vierne, Widor und Franck.

The course was complemented by an extensive secondary programme: In an open discussion round Olivier Latry talked with the Vierne expert Dr. Markus Frank Hollingshaus, the organist Pieter van Dijk, and with Mahela Reichstatt, a participating student on the course, about the challenges of sheet-music editions especially of Vierne's works. On Friday we were offered an „active organ tour of Hamburg“. The Hamburg Church Music Director, Manuel Gera, introduced and described the organs in the Hamburg “Michel”, before offering us the wonderful opportunity to try out the organs for ourselves. In the afternoon we tried out the grand organ at St Katharinen, rebuilt between 2007 ans 20013.

The participants demonstrated the high level of the course in a recital they gave including works by Vierne and Widor. The final recital, in which Olivier Latry played works by Widor (Allegro from the 6th Symphony), Franck (Pastorale), Augustin Barié (Intermezzo) and Vierne (1st Symphony), left no-one in any doubt that a star had come to Hamburg.


Dr. Christiane Strucken-Paland


Photo gallery of the Organ Academy: Click here