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24 organists in 24 hours – a record-breaking ‘music marathon’ to inaugurate Zaryadye’s new organ

Zaryadye Moscow Concert Hall opened only two years ago, but it has already become a draw for music lovers from Russia and abroad. Now there is a greater reason to visit Zaryadye: its brand-new concert organ, which was inaugurated in February 2020 in an unusual and record-breaking way.

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This February, the new organ was put to the test in a 24-hour ‘music marathon’. Twenty-four of the world’s best organists performed in turn and played the most diverse pieces ranging from Baroque to Bach, from classical to contemporary. Almost 20,000 people attended the event, and this longest 24-hours-non-stop organ concert was registered in the Europe Book of Records and submitted for the Guinness World Records.

As far as the organ’s sound is concerned, I would describe it as totally mesmerizing.

Winfried Boenig, organist at Cologne Cathedral

“The inauguration of an organ of this magnitude is very special indeed,” said Zaryadye Moscow Concert Hall Manager Olga Zhukova. “Given the historical dimension of the event for Moscow’s cultural life, we wanted as many Muscovites as possible to be part of it.”

A labyrinth of light, sound, and air              
The marathon was broken into 100 ten-minute sessions, held from midnight on 29 February to midnight on 1 March 2020. The organists were seated right behind the organ’s mobile console, so that visitors could not only listen to them play, but also see their movements and admire their technique. Among the outstanding musicians were Olivier Latry (organist at Notre-Dame de Paris), Winfried Boenig (organist at Cologne Cathedral), Gunnar Idenstam (a famous Swedish composer and organ virtuoso), and Lada Labzina (organist at Zaryadye). The highlights of the programme included ‘Toccata and Fugue in D minor’ by Bach, ‘Serenade No. 13 for strings in G major’ by Mozart, ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ from ‘The Nutcracker’ by Tchaikovsky, Overture to the opera ‘Tannhäuser’ by Wagner, and the ‘Prelude in G minor, op. 23’ by Rachmaninoff, amongst many others.                

 

“It was the first time I took part in an event like this, and it was moving, exciting, and unusual at the same time,” said Winfried Boenig. “People were walking around me, observing, listening, taking pictures while I was playing. As far as the organ’s sound is concerned, I would describe it as totally mesmerizing. The hall’s acoustic is second to none: sound just flies unrestrained and fills the whole space.”

During his speech at the organ’s inauguration, Moscow’s Mayor Sergei Sobyanin thanked everyone involved in this project and pointed out that, thanks to this unique instrument, Zaryadye will play an even more important role as an international music destination in future.

An instrument of superlatives                                
The organ was built exclusively for Zaryadye by the Strasbourg-based company Mühleisen. It is the largest in Moscow by the number of registrations – 85 in total – and one of the largest in Europe. 

Each part of the instrument, from the smallest to the largest tune – be it metallic or wooden – is handmade. The creation of the keyboard alone took two years: seventeen people took about 40,000 hours to design and produce parts. In July 2019, seven wagons delivered the 5,872 wooden and metallic tubes to Moscow. It then took nine months to install and tune the instrument.

To delight for more than 200 years                 
Weighing 41 tons and with a total area of 160 square meters, the organ is enormous. Yet despite its sheer dimensions, it seems light, almost weightless. With minimalist design, the organ boasts a wide and varied sound palette. ‘Cutting edge’ is the best way to describe the organ’s features. The organ’s sensor panel provides a great choice of instruments that can double the melody. Organists can record their own playing and then come down to the hall to experience what their performance sounds like to the audience.

This console lets you combine the classical, historic traditions of wind organs with synthesizers. All those unexpected sound combinations make it an improviser’s paradise.

Lada Labzina, organist at Zaryadye

Lada Labzina, organist at Zaryadye, believes the organ is so versatile that it can be described as a universal instrument: “There are ‘tough’ instruments, and there are ‘soft’ ones, but this one can be any, and music of any century will sound good, the way it should sound. This console lets you combine the classical, historic traditions of wind organs with synthesizers. All those unexpected sound combinations make it an improviser’s paradise. Since every good musician has their own style of playing, he or she can create something unique, their own sound,” she enthuses.

The organ’s lifetime is expected to be more than 200 years, and there is no doubt that this instrument will delight music enthusiasts for centuries to come.