Iveta Apkalna

Iveta Apkalna & Ensemble Resonanz

2021 festival: The titular organist plays works by Poulenc and Bach; on the rostrum: early music expert Riccardo Minasi. Available until 10 May 2022.

Since the official opening of the Elbphilharmonie, Latvian organist Iveta Apkalna has been a hit with Hamburg audiences, who applaud her »like a pop star« (Hamburger Abendblatt) after her concerts. In this concert, the Elbphilharmonie’s titular organist presents music by Francis Poulenc and Johann Sebastian Bach.

In addition, the string ensemble under Riccardo Minasi also plays Mozart’s »Linz Symphony« in this live stream from the Grand Hall. Ensemble Resonanz has already demonstrated its affinity for the great Austrian composer in several outstanding recordings: »Mozart under high voltage« was the title of an enthusiastic review on Deutschlandfunk of Ensemble Resonanz and Minasi’s interpretations, »which set a new benchmark in terms of energy level«.

Note: All Hamburg International Music Festival 2021 concerts are available to stream free of charge. Once premiered, each concert stream can be accessed for the whole festival period.

An overview of all 2021 festival concerts.

Ensemble Resonanz Ensemble Resonanz © Daniel Dittus
Riccardo Minasi Riccardo Minasi © Daniel Dittus
Ensemble Resonanz Ensemble Resonanz © Daniel Dittus
Ensemble Resonanz Ensemble Resonanz © Daniel Dittus
Ensemble Resonanz Ensemble Resonanz © Daniel Dittus


Ensemble Resonanz

Iveta Apkalna organ

conductor Riccardo Minasi


Johann Sebastian Bach
Concerto for organ and strings in D minor

Francis Poulenc
Concerto for organ, timpani and strings in G minor, FP 93

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Symphony in C major, K. 425 »Linz«

total duration: approx. 90 minutes


The Artists

Ensemble Resonanz

Ensemble Resonanz
Ensemble Resonanz © Tobias Schult

Riccardo Minasi – conductor

Riccardo Minasi
Riccardo Minasi © Jann Wilken

Iveta Apkalna – organ

Iveta Apkalna
Iveta Apkalna © Aiga Redmane

The music

An unusual premiere: old Bach in new bottles :The background to Bach's Concerto for Organ & Strings

»First of all, I need to check whether it has good lungs,« Johann Sebastian Bach supposedly said in jest when he once again had the task of testing an instrument as an organ expert. According to the accounts of his pupil Agricola, the Baroque master began by pulling out all the stops on the organ to see how much sound he could get out of it.

As an incomparable organ fan with a great interest in how instruments were made, and in search of new models and like-minded musicians, Bach travelled hundreds of miles to hear different instruments, and to make the acquaintance of colleagues like Dietrich Buxtehude in Lübeck and Johann Adam Reincken at St. Catharine's Church in Hamburg. And, unbelievable as it may seem to us, he made these journeys on foot. It was a distance of some 250 miles from his own place of employ in Arnstadt to Lübeck, so that it took him several weeks to get there. Would the Elbphilharmonie organ have found favour with the great organ connoisseur? Iveta Apkalna thinks it would: »To get to know the instrument, I started by playing Bach's Trio Sonata, and I can say that Bach sounds excellent in the Elbphilharmonie!«

With a total of over 220 organ works to his name, Bach has the reputation of the foremost composer for the instrument. His compositions show that he was willing time after time to explore the organ's limits, and as a legendary organist in his own time he wrote pieces whose technical demands challenge the interpreter to this day.

Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach © Elias Gottlob Haussmann/Wikimedia Commons

If you have leafed through the catalogue of Bach's organ works at some time, you may be surprised to find that there is no listing of an organ concerto in D major. In addition to the many chorale arrangements, the virtuoso toccatas and preludes, the big fantasias and complex fugues, there are six organ concertos bearing Bach's name, but these are actually arrangements of instrumental concertos by other composers such as Vivaldi.

So the D major concerto is not, strictly speaking, a reconstruction of an original work. But it is »an organ work such as Bach might well have had in mind,« promises Riccardo Minasi, who was in charge of realising the project. The history of the concerto makes a couple of detours through Bach's oeuvre: it starts with three different cantatas where organ composer Bach let off steam in large-scale instrumental introductions. He apparently took lasting pleasure in these movements, so that he put them together without further ado to form a concerto for harpsichord and orchestra, and further elaborated the solo part – »of course the harpsichord is able to play much faster sequences of notes than the organ«, Minasi explains.

In other words, the Organ Concerto in D major is basically the obvious combination of a solo concerto based on the instrumental movements of the cantatas with the original scoring for organ. »I play Bach every day, literally every day. And this is a very special premiere for me,« titular organist Iveta Apkalna enthuses.

Text: Julika von Werder

»It's really something special to be able to present the entire spectrum of this splendid organ in a single concert. In the Bach, it shows its filigree and elegant side, while in the Poulenc I have the chance to pull all the stops out in a few places.«

Iveta Apkalna

Homage to Bach :Poulenc's Concerto for Organ, String Orchestra and Timpani

»Don't analyse music – just love it!« This remark from French composer Francis Poulenc stands symbolically for his direct and unvarnished approach to music. Born in 1899 and a Parisian bon vivant through and through, Poulenc is regarded today as one of the most important French composers of the 20th century.

Looking back, one might say that Poulenc's music came at the right time: there was widespread unrest in the 1920s Parisian cultural scene. Many people found the classical music of the time to be stifling and divorced from reality. They rejected the metaphysically charged operas of Richard Wagner as much as they did the ambiguous, nebulous scores from Debussy's pen. Simple and down-to-earth were the buzz words of the day.

In response, a loose group of composers formed around the poet Jean Cocteau, who acted as their spokesman: the »Groupe des Six«. Among their number was Poulenc, as well as Eric Satie, Arthur Honegger and Darius Milhaud. Their motto was that music should have an everyday character and be easy to understand; they provoked the public in their works with extracts from jazz, vaudeville and circus music.

This provided Poulenc with the breeding-ground for his own style. Many of his pieces are surprisingly short, catchy and dance-like. He made use of complex techniques only to make fun of them: his music abounds in irony and weird moments. Poulenc was particularly fond of imitating the styles of earlier eras.

Francis Poulenc (Postkarte, 1923)
Francis Poulenc (1923) © Library of Congress

This also applies in his Concerto for Organ, String Orchestra and Timpani, which he wrote at the request of Princess Edmond de Polignac, a great patroness of the arts in Paris at the time. Organ works were not really in vogue any more in Poulenc's day: the »queen of instruments« had had its heyday in the Baroque world of Vivaldi and J.S. Bach, whose music Poulenc made a thorough study of. In this light, his concerto of 1938 is often seen as a homage to Bach, to whom he had already dedicated a set of piano improvisations on the notes B-A-C-H (in English notation: B flat-A-C-B) a few years earlier.

The sound of the organ was of course something familiar first and foremost from church services, and it doubtless also played a role for Poulenc that he had recently turned with renewed devotion to the Catholic faith. After a visit to Rocamadour, a pilgrimage site in the south of France, he focused his composer's attention increasingly on sacred music, writing for example a »Stabat mater« and several settings of the Mass. The writer Claude Rostand commented: »In Poulenc we find a monk and a street urchin side-by-side« – two extremes of character that the composer was only too well aware of while working on the score. He wrote to Mme. de Polignac: »The concerto has caused me a lot of grief. It is not by the affable Poulenc who wrote the double piano concerto, but rather by Poulenc on his way to a monastery, very much 15th century style, in a manner of speaking.«

Text: Laura Etspueler/Julika von Werder

»Mozart's ›Linz‹ Symphony is one of his works with by far the most ideas and melodies.«

Riccardo Minasi


Three years had passed since Mozart let Salzburg, three years in which he had kept well clear of his home town. In the meantime he had got married, and his father Leopold was apparently not particularly happy with the choice of bride. In the late summer of 1783, the young couple did travel to Salzburg. On their return journey to Vienna, they encountered the young Count of Thun-Hohenstein, who brought the Mozarts an invitation from his father to visit him in Linz, and this prompted them to stay in that city for three weeks. Wolfgang wrote to his father: »I cannot tell you how much courteousness is being showered upon us here. I am to give an academy in the court theatre. And as I do have not a single symphony with me, I need to compose a new one in a rush: it must be ready in time for the concert. So now I must stop writing – work calls!«

Wolfang Amadeus Mozart
Wolfang Amadeus Mozart © Museo internazionale e biblioteca della musica Bologna

Despite the speed at which it was perforce written, the symphony has the function of a hinge: it continues what Mozart had begun in earlier works in the genre, it is strongly influenced by Joseph Haydn, and it also paves the way for the four symphonies to follow. There are few other works where the balancing act between a hasty occasional composition and a pathbreaking stroke of genius is so extreme. Although he was pressed for time, Mozart still tried out new things, writing among other things a slow introduction for the first time to the opening movement of a symphony. The peaceful second movement starts off in pastoral mood, an idyllic depiction of nature. But Mozart then adds timpani and trumpets, lending the music something of a tragic note. And in the finale, he creatively places counter-parts in the bass line, and even takes the liberty of popping in a little fugato – in anticipation of the big fugue in his last essay in the genre, the »Jupiter« Symphony.

Text: Christoph Vratz

Supported by the Kühne Foundation, the Hamburg Ministry of Culture and Media, Stiftung Elbphilharmonie and the Förderkreis Internationales Musikfest Hamburg

last updated: 10.05.2021

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