16 Apr 2019

Notre-Dame a “nice place to work”

From Upbeat, 11:03 am on 16 April 2019

Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris has been called a “nice place to work” by its resident organist who visited New Zealand last year.

Olivier Latry is one of Notre-Dame’s organistes titulaires, a teacher at the Paris Conservatoire, and in demand internationally as a concert organist. He’s been an organist at Notre-Dame for 33 years.

Olivier Latry

Olivier Latry Photo: Deyan Parouchev Photography

He said in an interview with RNZ Concert’s Upbeat programme in 2018 that at times it can get very noisy with more than 60,000 tourists visiting each day but it’s still a “nice place to work”.

The Cavaillé-Coll organ at Notre-Dame was the largest in France. Latry said there is lots of history behind it.

Olivier Latry at the organ console

Olivier Latry at the organ console Photo: Philippe Guyonnet

The first organ loft was installed in 1402. At that time it had nine pipes. He got to see those pipes during the last restoration of the organ, “It’s like seeing an old person,” he said.

The organ has undergone renovations and restorations every 50 years since the 17th century according to Latry. “There’s all different layers of history with in it. It’s so moving to see them,” he said.

It combined the old with the new and most recently included technology that allowed organists to pre-set stops so they don’t have to pause mid-way through a performance to set stops manually. “It [was] nice to see what an organ could be… and what it can be in the 21st century,” he said.

Although technology was integrated into the organ, there is no “digital sound”. “All the sound is produced by pipes,” he said.

This allowed organists to “come back to the source” and to be “more connected to the spirit of the composers… and to have that in mind when we play the instrument.”

It’s thought Olivier Latry was the last person to record a performance on the organ before the 850 year old Gothic cathedral caught fire on 15 April (Paris time).

His new album Bach to the Future was released on 22nd March and features a performance of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565.

The performance was filmed and gets up close to the organ and important artworks within Notre-Dame.