I am in Dresden for a Meissen Delegation Visit with the Archbishop of York until Sunday. I am the Anglican Co-chair of the Meissen Commission which handles relations between the EKD and the Church of England since 1991.
Apart from the hard work on theological and practical issues, we have also had some fun. This evening we attended a brilliant organ concert at the incomparable Frauenkirche – the church the Allies destroyed during WW2 and in which I delivered a Bible Study during the Kirchentag last May.
I am not a great fan of organ music, but this exposition of JS Bach’s Die Kunst Der Fuge (14 fugues and 4 Canons) played to a packed house by the Frauenkirchenorganist Samuel Kummer was just brilliant. Organists must be the best musicians there are – they have to use so many fingers and toes – and this performance was mesmerising.
It made me think about the importance of ‘live’ music. Like with preaching, it is the event itself that defines the performance and content. Recorded music is wonderful, but the live event is by definition unrepeatable, utterly unique, of the moment. It is risky – anything could happen and anything could go wrong, especially in something so long and complex as the Bachzyklus XVIII.
Why were there hundreds of people in the church, many of them young and including a number of children? What on earth brings such a cross-section of humanity to a church to listen to an organ that is so high up that you cannot see the organist anyway? Why bother to turn out on a cold night to listen to something you could hear on a CD in the warmth and comfort of your own lounge – and probably for the same price?
The answer is probably complex. But, the combination of architecture, ambience, the shared experience, the live nature of the event, the atmosphere and the sheer artistry all combine to draw people to experience something unique and uniquely beautiful. You just can’t imitate in your living room the volume and nature of a major organ played in a vast and beautiful space.
It is a pity that the ‘event’ is so easily traded for a lesser, more accessible experience. I wonder if the experience of ‘live’ music is something that every child should be exposed to early on – something that should be commended and recommended to anyone wanting to know they are alive. And I wonder if people like me – those who preach, debate, communicate in a variety of media and contexts – need to make the ‘event’ so unique, so unmissable, so unrepeatable that curiosity and the need to discover one’s pulse will draw people to it?
Musings in Dresden after a long day.
Tomorrow we continue the business as we go to Meissen itself to begin celebrating 20 years of the Meissen Agreement. We end back at the Frauenkirche in Dresden on Sunday before the long journey back home.