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[Herald Interview] Master organist Ben van Oosten to bring 'deep feeling of spirituality' to concerts

By Park Ga-young

Published : April 16, 2024 - 14:25

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Dutch organist Ben van Oosten (Lotte Concert Hall) Dutch organist Ben van Oosten (Lotte Concert Hall)

Dutch organist Ben van Oosten, 69, has devoted his life to the instrument ever since his first appointment as a church organist at the age of 11.

His father, an amateur organist and pianist, would take him to organ concerts in The Hague and to different churches where he played.

His first impression of the instrument’s sound was overwhelming, and it soon became his favorite instrument.

“Due to its almost limitless sound colors and dynamic possibilities, the organ is capable of provoking a wide range of moods and sentiments, from quiet contemplation to ecstatic exuberance,” van Oosten said in an email interview this week.

“Moreover, the repertoire of organ music covers more than six centuries. Consequently, there are organs of many different stylistic periods and provenance, which make the organ a highly fascinating and unique musical instrument.”

While there is a wealth of magnificent organs from many centuries all over the world, van Oosten said, “In order to make people enthusiastic about the organ and its music, it is important that organ playing is appealing and of high quality. Only then, organists will be able to successfully promote their instrument."

Known for his expertise in French Romantic music, van Oosten recalled that French symphonic organ music was largely shinned when he was a child, but his father, who loved to play romantic piano music, had a predilection for romantic organ music.

“In 1970 I heard this music (he heard in The Hague) for the first time played on the right instruments in Paris, and it was a revelation for me. From then, I realized that this was my musical world,” he said.

In 1985, MD&G, a German recording company, invited him to record the complete Louis Vierne symphonies on original Cavaille-Coll organs in France and it was the beginning of the recording of all the French symphonic repertoire.

Cavaille-Coll organs, built by Aristide Cavaille-Coll, a renowned French organ builder of the 19th century, provided a rich and flexible palette of expression that fueled a new wave of compositional innovation, according to van Oosten.

Dutch organist Ben van Oosten (Lotte Concert Hall) Dutch organist Ben van Oosten (Lotte Concert Hall)

The organist will perform twice in South Korea. On June 2 at Bucheon Art Center in Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province, he will start in a festive way with two of Bach’s well-known works and proceed with B m inor Chorale of Cesar Franck and three pieces from the “24 Pieces de Fantaisie” by Louis Vierne, who was a pupil of Franck and Charles-Marie Widor. The program will conclude with Widor’s Fifth Organ Symphony.

On June 4 at Lotte Concert Hall, van Oosten will offer an all-French program with “great works by the most important exponents of this period: Vierne, Franck, Widor and Marcel Dupre. "In these symphonic works, the many different colors and dynamic possibilities of the Rieger organ will be heard,” he said, referring to Lotte Concert Hall’s organ manufactured by Rieger with 5,000 pipes.

“These symphonic works (of Vierne, Franck and Widor) bear the typical characteristics of French Romantic organ writing: melodic elegance, colorful harmonies and compositional clarity combined with elements of the fashionable and theatrical musical style of the Second Empire and the Classical tradition,” he explained.

The June 4 concert, which is part of Lotte Concert Hall’s “Organ Series,” will offer a rare opportunity to listen to Dupre’s four-movement work “Symphonie-Passion” which is a musical description of the life of Christ.

“My religious beliefs and my musical expression are inextricably connected, and I always hope that people will notice this when they listen to my playing. When I play the organ, there is always a deep feeling of spirituality,” he said.