Thirty-eight years ago during a short visit to Paris, I stopped into a music store in the 18th arrondissement to visit my friend Guillaume Deslandres, a clerk at the store. Guillaume couldn’t wait to tell me the news that Notre Dame Cathedral had just completed auditions for a new organist. Twenty-three-year-old Olivier Latry had been appointed one of four “titulaire” organists, an unprecedented event in the history of the centuries-old cathedral.
Three years later, Olivier came to BMPC and made his Philadelphia debut. Five years later, on my first sabbatical, I spent six life-changing months studying with this brilliant and vivacious genius, learning about cathedral life, French music and culture, and something about what it takes to grow as a musician and a person. Thus began an enduring friendship that I celebrate continually.
It has been an immense pleasure to watch Olivier’s growth over these nearly 40 years. His appointment to Notre Dame Cathedral catapulted him to the world stage, where he has risen to the very top. Often described as one of the greatest organists of our time, Olivier plays with brilliance and uncommon musicality. Now 61 years old, with a bit of gray here and there, he remains as he was when I first met him – kind, humble, hysterically funny, and blazingly intelligent.
Olivier’s 1988 concert at BMPC began a flourishing relationship with this church that culminated with his role in helping design our fabulous Rieger pipe organ. Everything about this organ – its sound, its selection of pipes, its appearance – has Olivier’s stamp on it. Thanks to him, we have one of the greatest pipe organs in the United States.
We look forward to welcoming Olivier back for his sixth BMPC concert this Sunday, March 12 at 2:00 p.m. In addition to performing a dazzling transcription of Wagner’s “Overture to the Flying Dutchman,” he will perform works by Louis Vierne, Marcel Dupré, and a rare performance of the complete 5th Symphony of Charles Marie Widor (from which “Toccata,” a BMPC postlude favorite, comes).
An offering to support the restoration of Notre Dame Cathedral will be received.