To be fair, though, yesterday had been a trying day for him. He had composed and sent an open letter to his congregation complaining about their complaints about his playing [attack being the best method of defence, of course]. He had, last Sunday, performed a splendid, granitic Messiaen piece at the end of morning service. But this particular congregation has the bad habit of gathering at the back of church after services to chat over coffee, and that clashes with the organ voluntary. The music is still playing, but the congregation thinks that the service is over. As far as M. is concerned, the service is only over when the music is over. Anyway, they obviously found talking through Messiaen impossibly challenging. I think he is going to handle this situation well, judging by his open letter, which I quote here………………
OPEN LETTER TO THE CONGREGATION FROM THE ORGANIST
La Resurrection du Christ – Olivier Messiaen
I was concerned to receive complaints about this work of Messiaen which I played after service last Sunday [29th April].
The first point I would make is that this music is not to be talked through as if it weremuzak in a restaurant. It should be listened to with respect and in silence. Not just because the theme of the resurrection is so crucial in the Christian context but because Olivier Messiaen is probably the greatest Catholic Church musician of the twentieth century. A Christian should listen to his work with an attitude of wishing to learn and to grow and of cultivating devotion to the Lord. Chatter over coffee and biscuits is a grotesque response to such works of art.
My compatriot James MacMillan, the composer and conductor, has recently written of his dismay at the handling of Church Music today, the constant trivial tripe that is churned out in order to appeal to some “popularist” instinct that is in the zeitgeist. I can only echo his words as I myself am thoroughly dismayed at the increasingly abiding tastelessness in this area.
My way of addressing this issue is to play works of the first quality. But now I see that that is not enough. I need to give some sort of leadership. I am willing to find a teacher to give classes in music appreciation to interested members of this congregation. It is not my skill, as I am a performer and I have my work cut out to reach the standard I aspire to.
Perhaps I can call on interested parties to respond to this offer, to raise some funds – it wouldn’t cost much – for a teacher to come along. As to the complaints about Messiaen and his ability to interrupt coffee mornings (oh the shame of it!), I would ask you to think better of this and to respect what I am placing before the congregation. I do it as a person of taste and as a person who seeks high standards. I myself respect the greatness of my tradition and in this sense my whole life has been at the service of something larger than I am. In such a context, I want to say quite bluntly that I find the message that I have received offensive, disrespectful and plain ignorant.
Amsterdam, May 3rd, 2007