“St Augustine asked where time came from. He said it came out of the future, which didn’t exist yet, into the present that had no duration, and went into the past which had ceased to exist. I don’t know that we can understand time any better than a child.” (from the novel The End of the Affair by Graham Greene)
With this program I intend to create a different kind of coherence than the usual chronological order of compositions. In stead of beginning with, for instance, Frescobaldi’s Fiori Musicali and finishing with Berio’s Fa-Si, the program has three closely interwoven threads: works by two composers I admire —Bach and Messiaen— and my own compositions/improvisations. Not to put my work on the same level as theirs —that would be presumptuous— but to find an intensity and unity of expression that surpasses stylistic and other differences. To play the whole concert in one flow, so to speak, and give the audience the impression of layers of time (18th, 20th and 21st century), in stead of the habitual chronological time in “mono”. This idea has been inspired by reading about astronomers and physicists stating that time should preferably be imagined as a globe rather than a singular line. Such observations are beyond our rational comprehension, but can in my opinion be understood through, among other things, artistic sensitivity, similar to Messiaen referring to éblouissement as a means of coming closer to God.
Regarding Bach, my interpretations represent a new kind of authenticity. Broadly speaking, Bach interpretation from 1829 (the year of the Mattheus Passion’s revival by Mendelssohn) till the first and larger part of the 20th century can be considered as romantically subjective. On the contrary, historically informed performance practice in the latter part of the 20th century up to the present can be regarded as objective, or at least as aiming at objectivity. My authenticity is a mix of objectivity and subjectivity: firmly rooted in historically informed performance practice through my education, but seen through a very personal and subjective filter: the 21st century practice of my own compositions and improvisations. If A represents romantic subjectivity and B historically informed performance practice, I do not want to go from B back to A, but forward to C, representing the present and the future.
In the program notes below my name is not mentioned in relation to my own pieces.
1. Stillness expresses the emptiness of, for instance, a desert; an emptiness that is nevertheless full of concentration.
2. J. S. Bach - Viens, Dieu, Créateur, Esprit Saint BWV 667 is the essential response to this stillness, according to Luther’s adaptation of the gregorian chant Veni Creator. Après l’imploration à l”Esprit — “Viens, Dieu…” —, c’est à présent ‘Esprit qui souffle.
3. In Listening to the fairies the mood is light, naive and cheerful, a consequence of receiving the Holy Spirit as Children of God, in the sense I understand this term (whether theologically accurate or not). In contemporary classical music, the quality of childish joy is very hard to find, perhaps due to opinions shared by many composers that in modern times (“After Auschwitz” or recently “after terrorist attacks”) this would morally not be acceptable. I disagree with this; such evil forces have always existed and it is a matter of not surrendering to them.
4. I play Olivier Messiaen’s Les Anges (from: La Nativité du Seigneur) in the same spirit as Listening to the fairies. Fortunately we are not alone, Angels are here to help us with our efforts. Both Listening to the fairies and Les Anges are also a statement against the hypocrisy of those who make religious life for others a burden in stead of a joy, by imposing all kinds of restrictions.
5. Improvisation on a North-African rhythm changes the mood from joy into contemplation.The rhythm is 11/8, subdivided into 2+2+3+2+2. The modal atmosphere establishes two layers of time: the ancient and the contemporary. Does the contemporary disappear into the ancient or vice versa?
6. J.S. Bach - Réveillez-vous, la voix du veilleur nous appelle BWV 645 is like Viens, Dieu, Créateur, Esprit Saint a response to a mood of contemplation. This very well-known piece is often played as a kind of declamation, but I intend to emphasize qualities as elegance and fluency.
7. Olivier Messiaen’s Les Mages (from: La Nativité du Seigneur) elaborates on this elegance by referring to the monotonous pace of camels that accompany the men from the East. The mood of contemplation returns, but longer and more intense, like a meditation.
8. Archetypes, based on a chord progression using only “archaic” root positions, is another reference to the layering of time. It builds up to a huge, dramatic climax. Contrary to composers that represent New Spirituality, music that is only contemplative, mystically elegant or celestial does not satisfy me. Similar to Bach and Messiaen, there should be some hard nuts to crack, like in everyday life. In making a program, I take special care where to place very loud pieces or passages. Archetypes’ fortissimo just before the interval relates to Bach’s Viens, Dieu, Créateur, Esprit Saint and looks forward to two other fortissimi after the interval.
9. In J.S Bach - Où dois-je m’enfuir? BWV 646 a new mood is introduced: anxiety and the urge to escape. Psychologically, this deepens the previous moods of contemplation and joy.
10. In Improvisation on the chord progression of Archetypes the left hand plays the same bass patterns as in Archetypes (except for the final part), while the right hand improvises the upper voice. This Archetypes alio modo (i.e. “in another way”, referring to words that Bach used for new choral preludes having the same name as already existing ones) has no deeper meaning in the sense of religious connotations. I added it to the program as an intermezzo, to provide musical variety in an light, easy-going atmosphere.
11. J.S. Bach - Reste près de nous, Seigneur Jésus Christ BWV 649 is in accordance with the title a consequence of the anxiety of Où dois-je m’enfuir? I intend to play it in a very sensitive manner, not too quickly, with a mix of despair and trust that consolation will come.
12. As an extremely powerful manifestation of sound and spiritual energy, Olivier Messiaen’s La Résurrection du Christ (from: Livre du Saint Sacrement) can be an astonishing experience for both audience and organist. In line with romantic tradition, Messiaen chose the (widened) tonality of F-sharp major to express this. As a massive fortissimo it refers to Viens, Dieu, Créateur, Esprit Saint and the climax of Archetypes.
13. Adding Bach’s “Tu viens maintenant du Ciel, ǒ Jésus” BWV 650 to this part of the program is a musical challenge for the audience and myself: will it be possible, after La Résurrection du Christ, to return to lightness and elegance and put the manifestation of force in another light?
14. With Flaming Sun I relate to a tradition among organists to end a recital with a spectacular piece that may not always respect the boundaries of good taste. It is a composition based on an improvisation which I played at a worldly conference in the St. Laurens church, when I was asked to play “something wild and rocking” on the visually impressive Marcussen organ. The title refers to astronomic forces and the mystical impact of physicist Edward Witten’s statement that time lines curl up when approaching the Big Bang.