To follow up on the post I wrote about musical prodigy Alma Deutscher, the person in the 60 Minutes segment was indeed my former student, Robert (Bob) Gjerdingen, who is now a music professor at Northwestern University. It was only a matter of hours that he responded to my post with the comment, “Dear Katherine, Yes, that was indeed your old student talking about Alma Deutscher on CBS 60 Minutes. Best wishes and many, many thanks for teaching me. Bob Gjerdingen.” Since nearly 40 years has elapsed since I last saw Bob, this was again the miracle of the Internet bringing us closer together. It was also again another example of “the organist behind the scenes” as I like to think of myself and a topic of this blog.
Here is a video of Alma Deutscher and her teacher Tobias Cramm in a joint improvisation.
But the story continues. Vreni Griffith was curious to read about Alma Deutscher and found this about her teacher, Tobias Cramm, whom you can see in the monitor above.
Cramm’s teacher was Rudolf Lutz, organist at St. Laurenzen church in St. Gallen, Switzerland, who is one of the foremost improvisers in the style of Bach. He is also the artistic director of the (J.S. Bach Foundation), which is in the process of recording all of Bach’s vocal works.
Vreni reminded me that she and Carl Crosier and myself attended a concert by Rudolf Lutz at the Bachfest in 2012! And indeed I found the post “The period orchestra” in which I described Lutz’ “very evocative and expressive gestures” in his conducting.
Vreni further explained that she heard Lutz play the organ last summer in Zurich:
Rudy Lutz is the organist I mentioned to you on Thursday! I’m so glad I [went] to church with Alma on my last Sunday in Zurich. She goes quite often to the Fraumünster and fortunately mentioned that there was a substitute organist playing, a certain Rudolf Lutz. She didn’t remember that I had told her about him before. It was really fun, sort of like a puzzle, wondering “where is that from”, even though sometimes it was only a bar or two of “recycled” music. Two years ago I went to the Bach Festival in Ansbach more because of his introductions to the concerts than the music. He is absolutely fantastic and also has a fantastic sense of humor. We had quite a few talks, and we even had one thing in common: being interviewed by the same journalist (my second time in Ansbach). After that he sometimes used a few Swiss German words in his talks and grinned at me.
This reminded me of a topic that I’ve wanted to write about for some time — finding out that famous people who play the organ but were not known for doing so. For example, last summer when I was in Warsaw, Poland, I found out that pianist and composer Frederic Chopin had taken three years of organ lessons and even had a church job as a teenager: Fryderyk attended the church of the Nuns of the Visitation … in his secondary-school years on Sunday services for pupils and students, and also after the year 1825, when he often improvised on the organ there. Writing to Jan Białobłocki in November 1825, he expressed his contentment: ‘I’ve become the school organist. Thus my wife, as well as all my children, must respect me for two reasons. Ha, Good Sir, what a man am I! The first person in the whole school after the Revd parish priest! […] I play once a week, on Sundays, at the Visitandines’ on the organ, and the others sing.’ (Wikipedia)
More recently, through my friend Jonathan Dimmock’s blog called “The Resonance Project,” I found out that the late conductor Kurt Masur played the organ during the war, and it was what saved and comforted him. “Yes. And we no sooner started fighting than I was captured and taken as a Prisoner of War. I was moved to the Netherlands, to a P.O.W. camp. But as soon as I arrived there, the Camp Chaplain discovered that I was a musician. He came up to me and said: ‘OK. I need someone to accompany me as I go from village to village preaching in small churches. You can play the organ for the services, and I’ll preach the sermons.” “So that is exactly what we did. We would arrive at a village church, I would familiarize myself with the organ there – often historic – and he would bring the townspeople in for a service. I can tell you that organ music was the only thing that saved my life during that very difficult period. I will always be grateful to that amazing instrument for giving me the courage to keep going.” “I’ve been back to many of those villages now. I wanted to see those organs again, touch them, play them. They seem to carry the weight of human expression. Did the builders of those instruments ever have an idea of how many people’s lives would be effected by their craft? I wonder.” Read the entire blog post here.
I have previously written about children’s television’s Mr. Rogers playing the organ, “An organist in the neighborhood,” and perhaps you didn’t know that Stephen Cleobury of Kings College and Masaaki Suzuki of Bach Collegium Japan, are organists but are known primarily for their choral conducting.
But did you know that Lady Gaga plays the organ?!
And how about Arnold Schwartzenegger!
Someone commented, “Keep your day job!”