On Wednesday 1st November we welcome Stefan Donner from Vienna for our next organ recital. In this edition of ‘Notes from an Organist’ we discover more about him, and what to expect from his recital, including how he’ll be marking Anton Heiller’s 100th birthday; playing on historic organs; and his hopes for the rest of the year.
Could you introduce yourself, how you got into music / become an organist and your musical journey to where you are today?
At the age of 9 I played a pipe organ for the first time and from then on I knew that this was my instrument. I’d already had lessons in piano at that time and besides I also was supported by my father who was a professional musician himself. After graduating with degrees in organ and piano I started to build up my career as a concert organist – performances and concert tours in Europe and overseas followed. Beside my busy concert schedule I am currently teaching organ, piano and music theory at two schools. I am rounding off my teaching engagements by working as an accompanist.
What can people expect from your recital at Bradford Cathedral?
The programme will feature works by European composers from Germany, France and Austria. While Bach’s Sinfonia from Cantata 29 will be heard in a transcription for organ, all the other pieces (by Reger, Widor and Heiller) were originally composed for the organ.
Why do you enjoy playing the organ?
I became fascinated by the organ at a young age when I had to replace the organist on a Sunday service in my hometown. The great variety of sounds and registrations always make me think of an orchestra. In fact, the organ is an orchestra by its own.
Do you have a particular favourite piece out of those you are playing?
The programme at Bradford Cathedral will feature works by Bach, Reger, Widor and Heiller. Since this year marks Anton Heiller’s 100th birthday, I’d say that his two partitas are somehow special to me. Also, I recall performing them some twenty years ago in a student concert at the University of Music in Vienna.
Are you looking forward to playing / hearing our refurbished organ?
I am excited to play at Bradford Cathedral again. My first recital took place in early 2020 right before the outbreak of Covid and I still have fond memories of playing for an enthusiastic crowd in early February 2020.
You studied at the University of Music in Vienna – what was it like to study there?
Indeed I received most of my training at the University of Music in Vienna and I enrolled there at a young age while still in high school. During my studies in concert organ and education, I began giving recitals in Vienna and later on internationally. My professors encouraged me to study a broad range of repertoire and also gave me freedom to create my own style of playing.
You’ve recorded pieces on instruments such as the 1741 Dacci organ of St. Salvator in Vienna and on the 1862 Buckow organ. What was it like to play on such organs?
I have played lots of different organs and I have also been fascinated by historic instruments. Recording on the 1741 Dacci organ was a special event because I recorded the programme of my first organ solo recital on it. The idea of recording on the 1862 Buckow organ came up in 2013 and I decided to compile works from the Romantic era which I found most suitable for the instrument.
What are your plans for the rest of 2023?
As part of this tour I will also perform at Leeds Minster, St Michael and All Angels and Bloomsbury Baptist Church in London. For the following month I was invited to perform at Chisinau Organ Hall in Moldova. December 8 and 9 are booked for an organ recital nearby my hometown in Austria and a piano recital in Vienna featuring works by Alban Berg, Egon Wellesz and Richard Wagner amongst others. Finally, I will give two more recitals on piano in late December with Bach’s Goldberg variations. However, most of my 2023 performances already happened during the summer when I was on tour in the US, Canada, Germany, Latvia and Luxemburg.
Finally, how would you sum up your upcoming recital at Bradford Cathedral?
It is always exciting to return to a concert venue but it is challenging at the same time. The audience will expect something different from a performer at the second time – a different programme with distinct sounds and registrations.
You can join us on Wednesday 1st November 2023 at 1pm to hear Stefan Donner’s organ recital, with an optional £4 buffet lunch beforehand at 12:30pm. You can find out more about Stefan on his website, Facebook page, or Instagram account.
You can discover more about our organ recital season on our dedicated page