Direct from Vienna, master organist to play Victoria

Organist Michael Gormley stands at the 12-metre-high Helmuth Woff organ at Christ Church Cathedral designed to play Austrian and German music. Renowned Viennese organist Peter Planyavsky will play the instrument in a special concert April 1 at the church.

Organist Michael Gormley stands at the 12-metre-high Helmuth Woff organ at Christ Church Cathedral designed to play Austrian and German music. Renowned Viennese organist Peter Planyavsky will play the instrument in a special concert April 1 at the church.

Peter Planyavsky being flown in for special concert at Christ Church Cathedral

A master organist and talented musical improviser is coming to Victoria from Vienna next weekend for a special concert.

“I think people will be fascinated by his great variety and his style,” said Michael Gormley, director of music at Christ Church Cathedral.

Gormley was instrumental, so to speak, in getting the great Viennese organist Peter Plavyansky to play on Vancouver Island.

Their connection begins in the early 1970s, when a young Gormley was studying music in Vienna. There, he attended organ concerts at the breathtaking St. Stephan’s Cathedral performed by Plavyansky, who is three years his senior.

“We were always smiling at his improvisations,” Gormley recalled.

Planyavsky, or Plany as he was called, had a wonderful sense of humour that lent beauty to his improvisations on some of the toughest pieces, including Mozart, Gormley said. Plany spent 35 years as St. Stephen’s music director and organist, and toured all over the world.

The two kept in touch even after Gormley returned to Canada after 14 years in the Austrian capital, but it’s been a decade since the two celebrated organists have seen each other.

As part of Christ Church Cathedral’s Organ Masterworks series, Planyavsky will play a program perfect for Christ Church’s Helmuth Wolff organ.

He’ll start with a contemporary selection by Paul Hindemith – who is a good friend of Planyavky’s music teacher, Anton Heiller. He’ll slip into some romantic period pieces, then play Heiller’s compositions and works by Franz Schmidt.

“And then, he improvises, which is him,” Gormley said.

For the improvisation part, Planyavsky will take music from a highly recognized tune, such as “Happy Birthday,” and mix it into his own piece.

“It’s really stunning to hear someone improvising,” Gormley said. “You know, the excitement of live music, just off the cuff.”

Planyavsky will speak to the audience before the concert.

“I think Plany is one of the great improvisers,” Gormley said. “That’s an experience one wants to hear.”

ecardone@vicnews.com