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A Butterfly and a Windstorm

img  Tobias

For Dominik Susteck, nothing is set in stone. Every month, he takes his designated seat at Sankt Peter Jesuit Church in Cologne and starts with a clean slate. „Some recitals are, without doubt, better than others“, he freely admits, „but it is important to get into a rhythm. The people shall know: There is a famous, exciting instrument and you can listen to it every month within the extraordinary context of contemporary music improvisation.“

Sankt Peter is actually a whole lot more than a church, with regular concerts, exhibitions, installations and a colourful cornucopia of events cheerfully taking turns. The famous, exciting instrument Susteck is talking about is its unique „New Music Organ“ especially constructed with the needs and concepts of contemporary composers in mind. By taking over from his famous predecessor Peter Bares as titular organist last year, he is continuing the admirable tradition of offering an improvised Organ performance once a month all year long.

It seems like an all but impossible task turning these regular in promptu concerts into something special each time around. This challenge, as it turns out, however, is exactly what drives Susteck: „Every recital puts you under a certain amount of pressure. There is the excitement and the stage fright. But the pressure has a positive effect on my playing.“

To avoid deadlocks and overt repetition, Susteck organises his improvisations into various shorter segments. As he puts it himself, it would be extremely hard having to continue for 40 minutes in one sequence: „The only thing I need are titles to orientate myself. I never plan a recital. Like Bares I have a spontaneous way of expressing myself with this Organ. The titles lead me and make it easier to get a dramatic configuration of the recital. With every new title you have a new chance to change the music or to start within a contrast. They inspire you to play differently and try new things.“

A Creative Counterpoint
Even initial sceptics have by now come to agree that he is succeeding in that aim. It has certainly not been easy making his audience forget about the mighty shadow of his predecessor who manned the decks for roughly 15 years. There was a transitional phase, in which the two organists had to come to a sort of agreement. It was a diffcult period, rendered even more demanding by very different personal constitutions and a massive degree of „organisational concentration“ as Susteck puts it - something he was not used to before.

In the end, however, he established a completely new image and reputation for the monthly event by staying true to his own ideals and interests. In fact, in many ways, his approach constitutes a kind of creative counterpoint to what Bares had done: „My improvisations are very different to Bares“, he agrees, „I learned composition in another way and I studied about 40 years later than him. Bares takes his ideas from Gregorian chant and polyphonic music. That was not my interest. I was interested in configuring time and sound. I was trained to avoid the old music material.“

It certainly helped that Bares enjoyed Susteck's work. Even though their visions could hardly have been more divergent, each of them respected the other for his consistency in persuing a very particular vision. And then, there is the instrument itself, a pool of infinite timbral possibilities and of neverending inspiration to Susteck. From our conversation, I get the impression that he could talk about it for hours on end, praising its virtues and trying to put its magic into words.

Silent Whining and Blustering Noise
„The organ of Sankt Peter is very different from all other instruments I have played in my life“, he enthuses, „Firstly, there's the absolutely clear sound,
because the church is small. You have two organs to surround the room.
You have the feeling of being able to place sounds in different spaces. And then there is an entire percussion set, not just a little bit of percussion. You have a very voluminous and large set to play very famous and previously unheard sounds. The ranks are very sensitive, so you have many different colours.“

Its effects are powerful: „Thanks to its variable wind machine, the organ can whine very silently and bluster very noisily. It is like holding a butterfly in one hand and a windstorm in the other.“

It should seem only logical, then, that the Organ has become a completely natural ingredient to the most diverse programs. On the occasion of the „Kölner Musiknacht“ on September 20th, Susteck's performance will be sandwiched in between various electronic- and classical concerts. Only two weeks later, he will demonstrate his instrument to the public during the „Orgel Mixturen“ festival. And in Mid-October, he is scheduled to accompany Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau's silent movie „Tartüff“ from 1925, next to taking place in a rendition of Messiaen- and Boulez pieces.

For those who can't make it to one of his public performances, Susteck has recently recorded and released an improvisation on CD. A „fingerprint“ of one of his stage appearances, „Spiegelungen“ („Reflections“) offers listeners a chance to hear him play and to come to realistic impressions of the sounds of Sank Peter's Organ.

And, then, Dominik Susteck enjoys the thought, that for once, his notes are set in stone: „ When improvising, you always give away your music. There is no possibility of fixing something. I selected “Spiegelungen”, because I liked this recital very much. I’m glad being able to remember the music and I’m hopeful of reaching listeners, who would also like to hear the music more than just once.“

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Dominik Susteck
Homepage: Kölner Musiknacht
Homepage: Oomoxx Records/Distribution

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