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Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments

Pipedreams Oaxacan Holiday

Program document #0242 October 2002

document Return to Oxacan Holiday Feature

Cristina Banegas = PLAIN
Michael Barone = BOLD

What’s it like coming to a place like Tlacochahuaya? I mean is this something you’re familiar with? Is it like slipping on a friendly old sweater or is it kind of a strange experience?

I think it’s a kind of strange experience because, first of all, we talking about an instrument that is really far from the center of Oaxaca. Then, we are in a little town. Around us, around the church we only can hear the sounds of the noises from different animals and then two or three smart little people from the church, the persons in charge of the church. They look at me and they are always smiling. Also, if I don’t speak……I mean, I speak the same language as him, as them, but they cannot understand me and I cannot understand them. When I try to ask them one thing, they just ask or return the question. Monday, I’m going to try one more time and then they say “Ah, okay.” And the answer is nothing, nothing about what I have asked.

I may say that organists, now a days, we are looking after oh what can exist. I knew during this congress that several different pieces have appeared in this area and also in Mexico City, but until two, three years ago we just knew, I can say repertoire for a recording of two CDs and not any more. So, why? Because, I think and I’ve heard that organists, the main organist of the churches, they were allowed, they took permission from the principles owners of all the musical movement to take away their music or just the organ part of what they were going to play or what they had been playing with the singers and the minstrels. It means that all the wind instruments and string instruments and always the organ was playing, accompanied with the harp and the teorb. So, this is one of the reason. Second reason, the organist, they just always they were improvising. And third reason, I think that they were not used to write all the compositions or improvisations. So, these are only three reasons. I hope that we will find more music. All that I play and I have recorded, it’s about, always about Spanish musicians and Portuguese musicians who came for two, three years to our continent, but few of them or few of the music that I could find, they come from manuscripts, from hands, from private persons. So, I hope…I hope really that organists will find the way or find out the way to obtain more music.

Is the organ culture in Mexico, was it far more developed than South America? Or are there an equal number of historic, important instruments in South America?

First of all, I think that the Newspane was the most important, the greatest town where the musicians developed their artist conception and improvisations and compositions and the instruments as I learned now during this congress, you can imagine and you were here that I would like to share with you and with the audience the fact that in each town we find each town with 20, 30, 40 people only living there, we find a historical organ, a colonial organ from 18th centuries, several times late or several times earlier and today we learned about 60 organs in this area, 17 the other area, 18…so, it’s unbelievable and the second main place that the area most important was the Cusco and all around, in our days in Bolivia and Altiplano. And in the center of Cusco we find 40 organs and in several churches, little churches we can find almost 3 and 4 little organs. So, what can I say?

Tell me about this one.

Ah, this one is an instrument that was restored 4 years ago from Pascal Quiorin. French restoring company. And this Frenchman he came to Sucre? and, it’s in 2000 and 200 meters from…of altitude and at the Tempolo de Iglesia las Hermanes es Clarises we can find a one manual organ an old Atlipanos organs that is composed with 7-8 stops. I was invited to record here a city and I just wanted to make anything different this time and I invited a soprano from my choir, a young girl and some musicians that were in the area, Enrique Gordoi is a very good friend from Argentina. He was there because he likes this organ, because he was working on restoration. He wants to learn and I didn’t know he was going to be there and I just asked to him, “Could you please, would you like to play with me sometime some percussion? We are going to improvise a little bit.” So, all the dances were accompanied by this percussion and also there were two or three nuns played with us, also, the castonualas and different instruments. So, I just called this CD, A Music Day at this church, at Santa Clarisa Convento, the Convent of Santa Clarisa. And we enjoyed really very, very much making music together and it was different as the other CDs always with a person playing. Why not? We know the instruments were there. We know that also here in Oaxaca and Tlacochahuaya I wanted to add something more. We realize that around the church and the Indians used to enter, to come into the church dancing and playing all this instruments and always it’s very joyful. Why not?

What got you started with the organ?

Ah, it’s a fantastic story. When I was two years old, I used to play the piano after my brother, who is here, practiced and I didn’t reach the keyboard. I was very little. But it seems that I could play what he was practicing. Then I continue playing and I cannot remember all that time about my 3, 4 years old and at 7 years I began piano. Study piano and well, all the technical things that we must know and the revolution of the Beatles touched me a lot. Very. Too much.

They weren’t organists, that I recall.

Yes, they were baroque. That’s important for me. And I was 11 years old and I was learning about the church and learning about the story of Jesus Christ and sharing with other children all these lessons and there was a priest always practicing on a harmonium. And I couldn’t realize, I couldn’t know what was happening to me, but I promise you that I couldn’t also hear what I was told about Jesus Christ’s life because I was dreaming about this sound. At 13 years old, the Beatles revolution. So, each day from 6 until about half past 6 p.m. I was hearing Beatles music and Rolling Stones, but almost Beatles music. And always crying. I was always crying and very involved with the polyphony, with the different voices, with the style, the English, and I was in love with the music and just all this revolution. At 15 years old, I was still studying piano and I must be very grateful to my piano teacher, Mrs. Renee Bonnet. She was a pupil from a Brahms pupil. So, it’s a very fantasic dynasty of good musicians and good pedagogues. And she has two girls. And one of them, she was studying music and studying organ in Paris. She returned when I was 16 years old and I began to study with her. Immediately, I realized that this was an instrument that I loved. But always, the voices touched me. Always the singing touched me. And I also studied traverse flute during several years. So, when I was 22 years old, I came to Europe to Santiago de Compostella for a Spanish music interpretation course with Monserrat Torrent and immediately, I met Mr. Lionel Rogg who heard a concert from me and invited me to study with him in Geneva. So, immediately, I went to Geneva and I began also choir conducting studies with Michelle Corbot. I was really very enthusiastic. Very enthusiastic. I was already also a concert artist. So, I had been playing the whole time in concerts and conducting children’s choir, conducting young persons in a choir. And I would say when I was 25 years old, well, I got the first prize at the Geneva’s Conservatory and in ’83 I got the first prize in Boellman Maison Paris Conservatory, I was a pupil of Marie-Claire Alain. And always conducting choirs in Geneva and traveling and taking lessons from different courses in different important course. Pistolla in Italy, and in France with Marie-Claire Alain and San Donna also in Spain with Guy Bovet, two different times. And I return to Euroguay. And what to do? Well, I began with a great organ festival. So, first time, first year there were 5 different organists, second year 7 and now…now a days we are celebrating our 15 year and we have had this year 18 different organists from all over the world. So, I’m very happy for that and I also could begin with work for a fantastic choir. But, this fantastic choir, at the beginning there were 3, 4 young people, of course, and they belong to the children’s choir when I was at the Yuan, working for them and with this choir. So, little by little, what is important because I want to tell you that with this choir we began to study the colonial Latin American music. And how to get this music? Well, I have to travel a lot, but I got it in Washington D.C. and Mexico, Peru, well. And little by little we begun to record and we began to travel and we could come to Mexico and sing at the Pueblos Cathedral for the first time and also world premiere some works, some compositions from Juan Gutierez de Partilia. He was a very great organist and Maestro de Capilia at Pueblos Cathedral. And since then I can promise that we have been working in a very fantastic way and we’re glad and we could also present for the first time in our country Saint Matthew’s Passion from Bach, with all the instruments coming from all around the world, and B minor Mass and Vespers from Montiverdi and Mozart and next time in April I will conduct also the Messiah from Handel. So, it’s a big activity with children with the singers, as concert artist, as organizing the festival and singing also.

So, organ is just kind of a side-line still at this point?

Yes. I have no time to practice because of all these things. But I can assure that it’s true if we have studied during, for instance, 50 years really very hard, you can still continue playing also if you don’t study.

Even though the organ is peripheral to you, it must still have some importance to your soul. Otherwise, you wouldn’t go back to it at all.

Yes. Of course. I love to play organ and I love to be in the church alone making music. When I am there, I forget the choirs and other things. When I am with the choir, I forget the organ. But, everything is really involved with.I think an organist must sing and that a flautist and a violinist also must sing. So, this is why I love also to be in charge of church music because it…it embraces it all…it embraces everything. When I’m playing the organ, I realize that I must study and dedicate myself to the organ and the same happens when I’m with other things. So, I accept it and I am like this and I’m happy in this way. Very happy.