Five questions for Iveta Apkalna

By Annette Zerpner March 13, 2023


Iveta Apkalna © Pablo Castagnola

Is an organ really a whole orchestra unto itself?

Yes – but not because of its size and volume, but rather because the organ combines so many timbres and stops. Incidentally, many conductors have quite a bit of respect for simultaneously standing in front of an organ and a symphony orchestra. Others enjoy conducting two orchestras at once. A provocation in the positive sense!


When performing with an orchestra, what specific aspects require your attention?

Whenever I can, I position myself beside the conductor on a concert organ console, much like a pianist would do. Some colleagues prefer to sit further away, but this physical proximity is important to me. Not only to monitor the sound, but also to establish eye contact with the orchestra members and synchronize our breathing. In the orchestral interplay, I assume multiple roles at the organ, including that of a soloist, a chamber music collaborator and a virtuoso cadenza performer. It’s like in a play. The organ’s sounds are accompanied by a certain delay. I always have to recalculate, or intuitively grasp, exactly how that is in each auditorium.


How does this impact the preparation for the performance?

My personal preparations on the organ are thorough and require several hours. You always have a very short relationship with each organ before you leave it behind again. But because I’ve played in many places, I have a kind of inner intuition when it comes to the organ and can draw on a wealth of experience with different instruments and auditoriums. I feel almost like a composer with a score orchestrating a work, as the timbres and stops are never written in the notes. I select them on each organ beforehand and then store them electronically, if that is technically possible. This is all preliminary work.


What kind of work is Aaron Copland’s Symphony for Organ and Orchestra?

Unfortunately, it is very rarely performed. I’m really looking forward to presenting it to the public on three occasions with the Konzerthausorchester, which I know very well and hold in high esteem, and with conductor Yutaka Sado. I find it incredible that Copland composed this symphony when he was just 24 years old, because it is a very demanding piece. The premiere in 1925 was performed by his teacher, Nadia Boulanger. All three movements are completely different, yet complement one another like separate episodes in a film: a bittersweet pastorale, a very American, tongue-in-cheek urban scherzo with beautiful orchestral solos and lastly a triumphant and majestic third movement that’s expertly crafted for the organ and carries a poignant tone. To my ears, this movement has a rather Hitchcockian quality, even more so than the others. However, I suggest that the audience simply embrace the element of surprise and let the composition work its magic!


What else do you have planned as Organist in Residence this season?

I am very much looking forward to two extraordinary concerts. On Walpurgis Night, April 30, we will begin at 11:59 pm. Petr Eben adapted a piece from his incidental music for Goethe’s “Faust” at Vienna’s Burgtheater, which I will be performing on the organ. In between, the actor Max Hopp will read from “Faust”. So it will be theatrical in the best sense of the word, also with the right atmosphere in terms of lighting. On June 18, towards the end of the season, I will open up “Iveta’s box of chocolates” featuring many short musical delights and an audience discussion.

Photo: Pablo Castagnola


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