Organ performing art of Belarus is famous for its longstanding unique traditions. The opening of the organ in the Belarusian state Philharmonic in 1963 marked a new page in rich, multi-century history of the Belarusian organ performing art. The organ took a prominent role on the national philharmonic stage and significantly expanded the horizons of the academic concert repertoire.
Before the main organ of Belarus was constructed, in 1957 the permanent Commission on organ constructing was created under the Ministry of Сulture of the USSR and under the chairmanship of L.I.Roizman, an outstanding Soviet organist and Professor at the Tchaikovsky Moscow State Conservatory. The main task of this Commission was to realize the plans on installation of organs in the cities of the Union republics in order to popularize the organ art in concert and educational practice. The first organ built within the framework of the Ministerial program (in total about 90 organs until the 1990s) was the organ of the Tchaikovsky Concert hall in Moscow (1959). In some cases, it was planned to use old instruments for installation in concert halls, which were thoroughly reconstructed in order to meet the new "concert" functioning conditions. Thus, the place of the philharmonic organ in Minsk was originally to be taken by an organ from the Grodno Farny Church. However, thanks to the personal authority of Stanislav Chernyavsky, who later became a loyal guardian of the organ of the Belarusian state Philharmonic, this did not happen. An experienced master, who worked for many years at the organ factory of the Lithuanian Theater Association (Vilnius) and had a foreign training in Czechoslovakia, was invited to evaluate the Grodno organ and pointed out that the Church instrument did not meet the acoustic requirements of the Great hall of the Philharmonic and that it should not be used in concert activities. Stanislav Chernyavsky, as a unique specialist, also had the honor to choose an organ, that soon took its permanent place in the new building of the Philharmonic, opened to the public in April 1963.
“Rieger-Kloss”, the largest company in Europe, was chosen to construct the organ of the Belarusian state Philharmonic, as well as it was with its Moscow “predecessor”. This company, founded in 1873 in the small Czech town of Krnov, still produces one large instrument per year and has recognized authority in the field of organ constructing. The Minsk “giant”, whose monumentality was rivaled only by the instruments in Moscow and Riga, was delivered from the Czech factory in six railway cars. Not only the cost of the organ, which amounted to 150-170 thousand Soviet rubles (about 1.5 million dollars in equivalent), but also its size were startling as a whole. The internal part of the organ consists of 3 floors (12 meters high, 15 meters wide, 4 meters deep), and the total weight is more than 17 tons. When the organ made its first sound, plaster fell from the ceiling. The auditorium turned out to be ill-adapted to such a powerful sound of the instrument. It urgently needed further renovation. Behind the spectacular facade, created by an ensemble of silver and gold, vertical and horizontal pipes, there is a large, verified to the smallest details mechanism. In technical terms, the Minsk “mighty giant” (as defined by L.I.Roizman) met the advanced requirements of organ constructing of its time: 6366 sounding pipes of various designs and sizes,the smallest of which has the size of a pencil, and the largest – 8 meters in length; 73 registers; 4 free combinations of registers; electric key action; remote control with 4 manuals and a pedal. 10 special bellows for air injection (3 meters long and 2 meters wide), reinforced with the weight of 250 bricks, are located below the stage. There are also two generators in the basement.
The author of the project, an expert in the installation and tuning of the Philharmonic organ for four months, was an outstanding soloist-organist, a well-known specialist in the field of organ constructing, a Professor at the Prague Academy of Music Jiri Reinberger. The Czech musician also had the honor to present a new organ to the Minsk audience for the first time. On May 3, 1963 he participated in the premiere concert at the Belarusian state Philharmonic, that opened a large-scale cycle of five evenings of organ music. In the first department compositions by German masters of organ music: Passacaglia in C minor by J.S.Bach, “Chorale Preludes” by J.Brahms and “Fantasy and Fugue on the theme “BACH” by M.Reger were performed. In the second department J.Reinberger performed compositions by French composers C.Frank and A.Honegger, Czech composers B.A.Viderman and L.Janacek. At the request of the audience, the artist played many compositions beyond the program including Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor. Reinberger’s Assistant at this concert was his apprentice Dagmar Ledlova. And the next day, her solo concert took place, its complex program included compositions by H.Purcell, D.Buxtehude, J.S.Bach, M.Dupre, and others. The young organist demonstrated virtuoso playing, also on the foot keyboard. On May 5, 1963, the German organist, Professor Robert Kebler performed a concert. The first department was entirely devoted to the art of J.S.Bach (his “Pastoral”, Three Chorale Preludes, Preludes and Fugues were performed). But the second department was performed in an unusual format. R.Kebler was improvising on the offered to him musical themes. Among them the musician chose the Belarusian folk melodies “Perapelachka” (“A Quail”), “Lyavonikha”, “Mikita”, “And the cornfield on the ground”, as well as two popular Soviet songs “May There Always be Sunshine” by A.I.Ostrovsky and “Moscow Nights” by V.P Solovyov-Sedoy. Two more concert programs in the cycle of the evening were jointly performed by Jiri Reinberger and Dagmara Ledlova.
The first soloist-organist of the Belarusian state Philharmonic was Oleg Yanchenko (1939–2002) – the People's artist of Russia, a founder of the State chamber orchestra of the Republic of Belarus, a composer. A brilliantly gifted young musician, a graduate of the Moscow Sate Tchaikovsky Conservatory with three majors: “organ” (class of Professor L.I.Roizman), “piano” (class of Professor G.G.Neuhaus) and “composition” (class of Professor Yu.A.Shaporin) opened up for the Belarusian audience an enormous world of European organ art, previously almost unknown for them. Since 1963, the concerts, performed regularly, combined the compositions of reknowned composers as well as the newest opuses of O.Messiaen, D.Milhaud, F.Poulenc, A.Honegger, P.Hindemith, and were one of the musical attractions of the capital. The legendary musician has worked in Belarus for more than 10 years, leaving a legacy of rich traditions of organ performing arts. His solo organ concerts, master classes, and premieres of new compositions have become one of the most exciting events in the musical life of our country for many years to come.
Aleksandr Fiseysky (*1950) took over the creative relay in developing the traditions of concert organ performances. He is a graduate of the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory in organ class (class of professor L.Roizman) and piano (class of professor V.Gornostaeva), he was a soloist-organist of the Belarusian State Philharmonic Society in 1975–1983. A repertoire of A.Fiseysky was very rich and diverse: it included works by prominent old masters and modern composers. Together with O.Yanchenko in the concert season of 1980–1981 a two-year Bach cycle of 15 concerts prepared by the musicians was presented to a wide audience. And in the seasons 1985–1987, a new three-year cycle of 18 concerts was announced under the title “Anthology of Organ Music”. As the main contractor was A.Fiseysky. Since 1984 A.Fiseysky has been a soloist of the Moscow State Academic Philharmonic. Now he is an honored artist of Russia, professor of the Gnessin State Musical College, organizer of the International Forum “Organ in the XXI Century”. But its connection with the Belarusian organ is not interrupted. He constantly performs on the stage of the Belarusian State Philharmonic Society with new concert programs.
The thirty four year old creative tandem connects the organ of the Belarusian State Philharmonic Society with the famous Belarusian organist and harpsichordist Konstantin Sharov (1954–2017) – a graduate of the Belarusian State Conservatory (class of piano of professor I.Tsvetaeva) and the Latvian State Conservatory (class of organ of professor N.Vanadzin’ and L.Bulava), winner of the Grand Prix of the International festival “Musica Sacra” (Lodz, Poland). Due to K.Sharov the Minsk public got acquainted with organ music of various epochs, styles and national schools, including little-known compositions, as well as numerous author's transcriptions. Following a high educational mission the musician filled the Philharmonic Playbill with monographic cycles of concerts, which presented a wide panorama of European music for organ – from D. Buxtehude, J.S.Bach, G.F.Hendel to L.-N.Clerambaut, J.-А.Gehlen, L.Marshan, C.Frank, Ch.-М.Vidor, C.Saint-Saens, L.Vierne and etc. Throughout his performing career K.Sharov engaged the Philharmonic organ in concert projects with the participation of domestic and foreign chamber artists, as well as leading orchestral and choral groups in Belarus.
The “modern” history of the largest organ in Belarus dates back to the major reconstruction of the Belarusian State Philharmonic Society, which took place in 2004. The “king of musical instruments” was also thoroughly repaired, for which the disastrous consequences were caused by a violation of the humidity regime, temperature changes, dust and vibrations caused by large-scale construction works. S.Chernyavsky and his son Gennady Chernyavsky literally gave the Philharmonic organ a second life by performing a complex restoration in 2005. The craftsmen cleaned each of the thousands of pipes by hand, then adjusted the air pressure and adjusted the tool. It was very painstaking and delicate work (although it was previously believed that only Czech specialists could solve this problem) – for example, when setting up some registers, even goose feathers were used. For the first time, the organ sounded after repairs on October 1, 2005: in a concert dedicated to the opening of the new season, the basis of the program was “Pathetic Oratorio” by G.Sviridov. The full-scale inauguration of the instrument after repairs took place on October 19, 2005. The honor of the first performance on the restored instrument was presented to the leading organists of the country – Ksenia Pogorelaya, Igor Olovnikov, Konstantin Sharov, Vladimir Nevdakh.
An important event in the history of the organ of the Belarusian State Philharmonic Society was the implementation in 2006 of the international concert project “Masterpieces of the world organ art”, the ideological inspiration and permanent leader of which is Olga Savitskaya – musicologist, candidate of art history, associate Professor of the Department of music theory of the Belarusian State Academy of music. As part of this successful project, the Minsk public got acquainted with the art of outstanding organists of Belarus (К.Sharov, I.Olovnikov, K.Pogorelaya, R.Vygranenko), Russia (A.Fiseysky, L.Golub, D.Zaretsky, M.Mishchenko, E.Kolesov, O.Kemova), Poland (М.Stefanski, R.Perutsky, М.Markushevsky), Germany (J.Geffert, M.Schneider, D.Scholmaier, Y.Essl), France (F.Pitrua, V.Dubois), Latvian (E. Lisitsina), Lithuania (I.Budrite-Kummer), Italy (E.М.Fagiani, М.Corazza, К.Tunesi, М.Ciferri), Spain (D.Salvador), USA (R.Ebrecht), England (Y.Quinn), Japan (H.Inoue) and other countries. The highest performing level of musicians involved in the concert programs of this project, educational orientation, variety and genre-style breadth of the repertoire caused a wide resonance in the concert life of Belarus and ensured the popularity of organ music evenings in the Philharmonic among domestic connoisseurs of academic music.
The organ of the Belarusian State Philharmonic Society underwent significant changes in 2013. With the assistance of German specialists and under the careful guidance of its new keeper – Gennady Chernyavsky, without the supervision of which no organ rehearsal or concert in the Philharmonic can do without, the intonation of registers and partial restoration of organ pipes were carried out. Serious changes affected the organ console, which was replaced by a modern analog. This eliminated the complex system of more than four hundred wires that previously connected the remote control to the instrument. The organ was also equipped with an electronic system and additional equipment midi-recorder MSD-2, with the help of which it became possible to record and play the organist's game. Thanks to new technologies, it has also become much easier for performers to work with registers: you can turn them off by pressing one button instead of several, as before.
Today the main organ of Belarus has a rich concert life. Its excellent “form”, supported for many years by G.Chernyavsky, is noted by all organists who perform in the Great Hall of the Belarusian State Philharmonic Society. The solid reputation of the Philharmonic organ as an exceptionally versatile solo instrument, which is subject to the most complex concert programs from compositions of various styles and eras, is confirmed not only in the regular performances of famous organists from various parts of the world, but also in the appearance of young domestic performers (Olga Podgayskaya, Kallinika Medvedeva, Ekaterina Nikolaeva and others) and the formation of the national concert organ repertoire.