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Winds Choreography


Yves Balmer

ca. 16 minutes

Organ solo

The façade of the new organ for the Musiikkitalo’s Concert Hall is spectacular. It is indeed the organ case – with both its sober wood structure and its extravagant fluid, flowing-like steel pipes – that drove my thoughts as soon as I started to think on a new composition for the International Kaija Saariaho Organ Composition Competition. I was both amazed and intrigued by the magnificent and delicate curves of the pipes, evoking natural phenomena, growing plants and living organisms, or a sudden gust of wind, even a tornado. Wind’s freedom – its capacity to escape any cage and choose its own, unforeseeable path – is enfolded in this artistic organ buffet. I see it as an incarnation of the wind’s breath, and thus a new instance to the classic metaphor of (artistic) creation itself: accordingly, an encouragement to think a new organ work outside the box. The work of Janet Echelman, whose art sculpts the wind, came immediately in my mind as I started to elaborate a reflection on what could mean for a musician to compose (with) the wind. I came back to her work, like her work Earthtime 1.78 Helsinki displayed in Helsinki’s Senate Square in 2021, and her theoretical thoughts. And the title of my composition is directly rooted to her fascinating TED talk “Taking Imagination Seriously” from which I extract the words “winds choreography”.

In the rich history of cultural associations between wind, breath, spirit, music, and life, where music and wind form a most natural couple, organ is a masterpiece. Organ is indeed a machine – a giant and highly complex filter, perfected over generations and centuries – that allows the air to become music through a multitude of different pipes. As the nets crafted and artistically suspended by Echelman reveal the artistic movements of the wind, I have tried to sculpt the wind of the organ throughout my composition. With her fine, airy work in mind, I tried to create musical nets, weaving together many a musical parameter to sculpt and chisel the wind. My mind was also replete with other composers’ music when composing. Yet, Debussy’s famous sentence, written in Monsieur Croche, was a constant reminder: “Never follow anyone’s advice, except that of the passing wind that tells us the history of the world”, and I finally chose to encapsulate in this composition a short quotation of Messiaen’s Le Vent de l’Esprit, in my opinion one of the most inspiring work about wind for organ.

Compositionally, therefore, I chose to compose a net, a giant filter of organ stops, a constantly changing network of stop combinations. I have carefully crafted and scored a large number of registrations that continually reconfigure the timbre to offer an exploration of the infinite colour capabilities of the organ. These changes allow the creation of colourful ‘waves of timbre’, which constitute the main material of Winds Choreography. This makes it possible to work on very organic, progressive and continuous phenomena (as breath-like oscillations), but also to offer a form of great unpredictability through ruptures and caesuras (of families of timbres, types of mixtures, registers, register complexes, etc.).

The composition of the registration table was made with the Helsinki organ in mind. It uses the astonishing variety and splendid palette of stops offered by the new organ in the Musiikkitalo concert hall (most, if not all, stops are used in the composition), but it is reproducible on many organs. The association of the stops and their evolution is not random, but linked to the organology of an organ. A careful reading of the registration table will illustrate how it is composed. The combination of stops produces a great variability in timbre and complexity of the sound, but encompasses all musical parameters: harmony (for the stops change the pitches), rhythm (speed of evolution of the phenomena), sound mass, volume and density, musical space. The sound and its multiple qualities are sculpted even further by using the flexible wind system, using the sostenuto system which allows to build clusters of chosen pitches from which you can remove precise notes, the use of the three expression pedals, and the possibility to gradually open the stops that allow a huge variety, albeit uncontrolled, of sonic events.

The pipes’ design for the façade of the Musiikkitalo's Concert Hall organ have directly inspired the musical volutes which will be played by the organist to reveal the ‘waves of timbre’. Those volutes are deduced from six main chords which form the unique material of the whole composition. There are no measured rhythms or bar lines to halt the flexibility of the discourse or to stop the volutes to move fluidly and gracefully, as it is required for the performer to perform with a light expressive rubato. The evolution of the masses (by increasing the harmonic or contrapuntal activity) as well as of the timbres, the density of the flow of changes, the powerful modifications of dynamics induced by these changes will contribute to create a sense of rhythmic events, despite the apparent continuity of the musical score. As in Janet Echelman’s art, the structure is above all a tool to reveal and materialise the poetic potential of the wind itself.

Concerts à venir et passés

  • 🇫🇮  Jan Lehtola - Winds Choreography
    🇫🇮  Jan Lehtola - Winds Choreography
    sam. 08 févr.
    Musiikkitalo, Helsinki
    08 févr. 2025, 19:00 UTC+2
    Musiikkitalo, Helsinki, Mannerheimintie 13 A, 00100 Helsinki, Finlande
    08 févr. 2025, 19:00 UTC+2
    Musiikkitalo, Helsinki, Mannerheimintie 13 A, 00100 Helsinki, Finlande
    Winds Choreography (2022) Organ solo, 18 min. To be premiered by Jan Lehtola, Helsinki Music Center, FI (March 2025)
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