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The Performer’s Voice

Musical rhetoric in contemporary ritual
The artistic research project The Performer’s Voice. Musical rhetoric in contemporary ritual puts questions such as: What is the meaning and relevance of performances of historical works in contemporary concert culture? How does the art of interpretation interact with that of improvisation? How do historical and contemporary voices blend and sound in music?

The practice of organ playing is deeply rooted in European history as well as a living contemporary practice. For musicians and artistic researchers, it holds inspiring dynamics between tradition and renewal in music-making, in the instrument itself and in the church as a ritual space and acoustic room. Hereby, it is a source for exploring creative processes in performance, self-directed learning, artistic work and practising.

By tradition, organists have an ’expansive approach’ (Johansson, 2008; 2013) towards notation, and the use of written music as a tool for learning improvisatory skills (Nelson, 2010) has remained an important aspect of organists’ playing up until today. Through this the opposition between interpretation and improvisation, that has been common in classical music making for centuries, is deconstructed and challenged. In a series of concerts and workshops, the research group, consisting of six prominent organists, use Dietrich Buxtehude’s (1637-1707) organ works as a starting point for research questions about the relationship between interpretation and improvisation. Conducting a dialogue in and on music with Buxtehude and his time is a way of rethinking and renewing present-day interpretive performance practice and artistry.

The project is expected to contribute to knowledge development in areas such as:

  • relationships between tradition and renewal: The organ as an instrument is heavily loaded with musical heritage and ritual conventions. At the same time it is a flexible music machine that easily incorporates and develops new tendencies (Hellsten, 2002). With a double focus on written music and oral traditions, every individual organist acts as a meeting point for genres and styles, and embodies the tension between representing musical history and/or the avant-garde.
  • relationships between power, knowledge and music-making: Interpretation of historical repertoire is an arena for individual agency and collective conformity. This points to questions about what the musical goal of this practice is and could/should be, and about where it is heading in the future.

Hellsten, H. (2002). Instrumentens drottning. Stockholm: Natur och kultur.

Johansson, K. (2008). Organ improvisation - activity, action and rhetorical practice. Malmö: Malmö Academy of Music.

Johansson, K. (2013). (Re)thinking organ improvisation: Revisiting musical practice. In H. Frisk & S. Östersjö (Eds.), (re)thinking improvisation: artistic explorations and conceptual writing. Malmö: Malmö Academy of Music.

Nelson, K. (2010). Improvisation and pedagogy through Heinrich Scheidemann's Magnificat settings. Gothenburg University, Gothenburg.

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