Gwendolyn Toth

Gwendolyn Toth is the director of the New York City-based early music ensemble, ARTEK, and a soloist on early keyboards (organ, harpsichord, fortepiano). She is married to harpsichordist Dongsok Shin, and they have three children.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Visiting more Dutch organs

My niece Karen joined us for part of this trip, and I'm afraid she didn't quite know what she was getting into, organ-wise. Today we took her in the morning to four nearby churches - Oosterwijtwerd, Krewerd, Holwierde, Marsum.

Oosterwijtwerd: a teeny tiny town, lovely, and a historic church.

The Benedictine churches of the Groningen province are: Zeerijp, Holwierde, Noordbroek, and Zuidbroek. If these names are sounding familiar, it's because I've recorded in 2 of them, played  the organs in three of them, and visited all of them. 

Krewerd will always be one of the most special  organs for me. I played my old friend for a half hour and wish it could have been much more. It is a thrilling combination of sometimes a pussycat, sometimes a lion. And in a small (just a few stops) organ and a very small church. Be careful for your listeners is you put on more than 3 stops.

I have some previous youtube examples of this organ:

Holwierde is also, along with Krewerd, one of the few church still with the rood screen from before the Reformation time. The organ there used to be on tip of the screen, as it is in Krewerd, but when the church was restored from major damage in the second world war, the organ was moved to the "modern normal" spot in the balcony in the back of the church.

Above - Leny and Karen on top of the rood screen in Holwierde

Marsum is another small church building (the churches with a Benedictine heritage are the very large ones) and it now houses a replica of a medieval organ made by Winold van der Putten. It is pumped by two people standing on the bellows; it is entirely based on pictures in medieval texts. It is surprisingly hard to play when there are no "black" keys. Everything is just in one row of wooden pallets you play with your hand - G, A, B-flat, B, C, D, E, F, F-sharp, G, etc. And difficult to keep thee wind going steady. But fun to try!

In the evening we had a lovely dinner at the home of friends Vanessa and Mark Voorham in Dracht, after which we traveled into Groningen, this time to hear a concert in the Aa-kerk (the Aa is a river running through Groningen). I met Peter Westerbrink, the organist, many years ago in the late 1980s on tour with avant-garde music with the SEM ensemble, and I was able to play the Schnitger organ for an evening then. Then the organ was removed in the early 1990s from the church in order to be restored to its baroque condition. However, a discussion began at that time as to whether it was appropriate to remove the late 18th and 19th century stops, possibly in light of the fact that the Martinikerk is already a fine and massive example of Arp Schnitger's work in Groningen. After much debate the organ was left in the same condition and just cleaned and minor repairs. Now it is playing again after many years. Peter gave a concert of music from Buxtehude to Reger, with some of the later music being possibly the most successful, reinforcing the idea that this organ is appropriate for the music from the baroque through the modern era, but still with many of the wonderful baroque stops of its Schnitger heritage.

Peter Westerbrink at the organ after his concert

The small organ in the Aa-kerk (not bad either!)

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