When walking round the Vondelpark in Amsterdam I’ve often spied the large, outwardly gloomy former church which is now a musical centre called the Orgelpark. As a supposed fan of organ music, I always felt rather guilty I’d never been inside. On a free evening this week I noticed that Ton Koopman would be giving a solo recital – I really had no excuse.
Of course, the visit was revelatory. Not just Koopman’s wonderful, witty performance of Buxtehude and Bach on the 2-year old Utopa Baroque Organ, 90 minutes of constantly changing registrations and Affects. But the place itself, which appears to house, can it be, nine organs; mostly sparkling new versions of old instruments, plus a couple of ‘rescued’ church organs and a fantastic local barrel organ, The Busy Drone.
The décor and environment of the building itself is also smart, comfortable, inviting, with a programme stretching some way from the traditional organ world, and into contemporary composition. So often when organ enthusiasts get together in the UK, we discuss, as a distant utopia, the idea of moving organ culture away from its heavy-seeming religious context, and enjoying it as a lively contemporary art. But here are the Dutch already doing this, with considerable éclat.