Organist Olivier Latry – From the Seine to the Elbe

Organist Olivier Laterry plays the organ eiole at Kulturplast Dresden (Deutschlandradio / Claus Fischer)

“Notre Dame is really a part of my life! I’ve been an organist at Notre Dame for 34 years! So that’s a long time ago!”

Friendly and thoughtful – that’s how I met Olivier Latry in April of this year. As a “palace organist”, the organist based at the Dresden Palace of Culture, he has played one of his five concerts this season.

“This is a good opportunity for me to try different projects! For example a concert with a lot of brass played by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and also a cinema ‘Phantom di Lupera’. This is completely different from what I usually do. So this is a very nice experience for me!” “

Olivier Latrye said at the time that he was happy, not just sitting in his grand organ at Notre Dame. Because each organ is a completely individual machine and has its own voice. Each organ console is also individually designed. This means that the organist always needs several hours to become familiar with the instrument. The organ was created in the Kulturpalast in Dresden by Hermann Eule of Bautzen two years ago. Olivier Latry asserts that it looks very different from the organ of the cathedral in Notre Dame.

“It’s more a German member (laughs) than a French one. Well, maybe some of the reeds are a bit French, the big cane. But to me, it’s good that the member here in Dresden, Germany looks more like a French! The members of the world are the same!”

Laterry and Germany – a long-term relationship

“I played my first concert in Germany in 1982, and that was in Regensburg. Since then, I’ve played so much here that I’ve learned more vocabulary every time! I have a lot of friends here in Germany. I also have a lot of friends here in Germany.” So many German organists who came to France to study with me.”

Olivier Latry came to East Germany in the 1990s.

“It was shortly after the reunification! It was a great experience for me to come here and play instruments in the cities of Bach! I played in Halle, as well as in Cothen, Mersburg and Leipzig – and it was great for me! I’ve never been here I was so impressed!”

German and French organ culture – interaction

It is interesting that German organists are particularly fond of the French organ culture of the Romantic period. Olivier Latry and his colleagues at the Great Nation, on the other hand, have a particularly soft spot in the opposite geographic direction.

“We always want what we don’t have! Of course in France we have a lot of Cavaillé-Coll or Mercklin members, from the nineteenth century, and symphonic instruments, but we don’t have a lot of German organs. But it’s also funny to see that the style we like in France is not the style Symphony or German Romantic instruments, but Bach’s Baroque instruments, for example. That means a bit what I’m saying, but we don’t need a Reger, Rheinberger etc…”

Originated over the centuries: Organ Notre Dame

During the interview in Dresden before the fire at Notre Dame, Olivier Latry naturally spoke of his instrument in the cathedral. Of course, we weren’t expecting it to catch fire after a few weeks. The organ was built by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, the most important French organ maker in the 19th century, inventor of the French-style symphonic organ, if you will. But he also used tubes from the earlier instrument of the Baroque master François-Henri Clicotte. After Cavaillé-Coll, the instrument was expanded several times, the last time, according to Olivier Latry, in the 2000s.

“The structure of the organ is still Cavaillé-Coll, but there were many of them after that, for example Mutin and Mercklin of course, so the organ is always evolving! We can also play music from the eighteenth century well, for example, because all the whistles Clicquot still exists.”

User can be saved

On the evening of April 15, Notre Dame caught fire. Olivier Latry was in Dresden at the time, preparing for a concert with the wind section of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra on the Organ Kulturplast. After rehearsal in the evening, he no longer slept, but spent hours on the phone trying to find out the condition of his member.

“It has now become a nightmare,” he said the next day at a press conference hurriedly summoned to the Palace of Culture. A few hours later I met him again for a face-to-face interview, during which he seemed very relaxed.

“We are very happy that the organ has no water and no heating. The tubes are all still there, and not much water has entered the organ.”

In any case, the tool can be completely saved for the next few years. Olivier Latrye played his planned concert at the Kulturpalast with the brass of the Vienna Philharmonic, and the artistic director of the Dresden Philharmonic at the time decided to make it a private charity concert for the member of Notre Dame. Only bots are allowed to access it at the moment, because the gallery is not stable enough yet. In two years, according to the official statement, church services will take place again.

A sign of hope – the Frauenkirche in Dresden

Olivier Latrye hopes to be able to play the instrument again that he has played for 35 years and that he misses dearly. His season as an organist at the palace ended in Dresden. The Frauenkirche, which he passed several times a day during his stay in the state capital of Saxony, gives him hope.

“It’s really a great hope for Paris for me to see the Frauenkirche and what they’ve done here is incredible – and it’s not as dramatic in Paris compared to Dresden. It was possible here, so it would be possible in Paris too!”

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