This is a recension of an event that took place this summer. I started writing it just after the concert, but finished it now.
An exceptional evening for me in Fredrikstad, listening to American organist Cameron Carpenter playing outside on his American municipal type organ, so far unknown to me.
Carpenter is one of those musicians whom you seriously don’t know what is going to do the next moment, you go “What?? It’s not possible” and the next second “It actually is”.
The instrument, although electronic, belongs to a tradition of organ building which started in the USA in the early 20th Century, with instruments being paid for by cities across the States, built in concert venues outside the churches. There were also city organists who were employed and paid by the municipality where this happened, thus the name.
You could perhaps argue that the registration of the instrument is also somehow formed by American mentality and…hm, nature, perhaps, which I believe, without ever having been in the States, is huge and strange enough seen with European eyes…to sometimes call for exceptional musical measures as well.
This organ had a lot of volume, great dimensions of sound and was perhaps made with some physical thinking – some sounds were really violent to my ears. In some peak points of Bach it made me think of the sound of Jimi Hendrix’s famous version of The star-spangled banner, sounding not like machine guns or jet fighters, but perhaps cannons, accompanied by more traditional organ sounds.
I am not an expert on organ music, but these are my impressions.
Most other voices used for the classical pieces were conceived and made in the tradition of acoustic pipe organs as I know it.
Some other pieces in the concert, non-classical stuff, were soundwise and stylistic perhaps with at least one leg into the world of hammond organs, and left a pleasant and more meditative impression, stylistically unproblematic to me.
Some of the most complex and dense parts of the great Bach pieces maybe sometimes had a lack of clarity, a few of Bach’s largest musical knots were perhaps not totally unwound.
But Cameron is a virtuoso and a truly original musician, as I have said.
It was a little difficult for me to take in this new genre, if that is what it is. Because of the greatness both of Carpenter’s talent and of his architecture of sound it left me pretty blown away. Some aggressive outbursts also sounded like too harsh comments on Bach if you wanted simply to listen to his music, but if you considered the performance a world of its own, maybe all parts could go together.
The concert started with Handel, but I missed part of it, and perhaps this would have bound the concert even better together to a whole for me, which Cameron certainly had the ability to do. We actually travelled from light (Handel) via meditation and contemplation to aggresion (some of Bach).
I had the impression that a church roof was blown up in the sky in the final piece. Quite an ending in my ears, at least!
Revolution sometimes happens on stage, that’s part of the game, I would say, and as long as one is able to collect the debris afterwards, put it together again, maybe in another way, and start all over with Bach another evening, it is perhaps no less allowed than directing plays or operas in ways that have been happening for many years.
Food for thought to say the least, with perhaps a stretch from a normal humble attitude towards Bach to almost hatred in the end. But the greatness of Cameron’s talent made it impossible not to consider seriously what he was doing.
As far as I could judge, both the sound engineers at work and the musician himself did a brilliant job in making this outside event into a very laudible and audible event. I had really no trouble enjoying or hearing very clearly what he was doing musically, apart from the kind of musical shocks that I have described, and that you normally take at least a detour or want to pay a lot to hear. We were sitting on an outside bar with the river flowing quietly in the middle of it all, with hundreds or maybe a couple of thousand listeners on the bridge behind us and along the river. The weather was great and the evening a fantastic one, real magic, which can happen in Norway becauuse of the nature, I can say that as a patriot and an inborn.
In fact not a bad match, the town of Fredrikstad, nature and art in a pretty spectacular encounter, but with some mixed feelings and a lot to think about on the way home.