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  • Writer's pictureLa Nouvelle Orléanaise

Gildas Harnois, the man who played the organ

How to remain insensitive to the power that emanates from an organ, a complex and majestic instrument? And how not to be imbued with mysticism when listening to it, especially since the organist plays out of sight? That of the cathedral of Orléans – designed by the famous organ builder of the second half of the 19th century: Cavaillé-Coll – is unique in that it sounds exactly like in 1880, the year of its inauguration, despite the damage caused by the vagaries of history and the more than dubious restorations of the last century. During the last major restoration, between 2004 and 2007, it took all the know-how of the organ builder Bernard Hurvy for the instrument to regain its original sound. The care put into the work was worth it, because the exceptional sound of this historic monument now attracts organists from all over the world. I had the opportunity to hear its breath on July 8, at the wedding of a couple of friends. Felix Mendelssohn's famous "Bridal March" was gut-wrenching. We are very far from a recording on a USB key. To see who was in charge of the console – a term for keyboards and various controls – I contacted the organist Gildas Harnois. It was an opportunity to discover his career, to know a little more about this exceptional instrument, both powerful and fragile, and about the festival "Au son des orgues", which is in its 26th year.

Gildas Harnois

LNO: Gildas, there is something very touching when you realize the complexity but also the fragility of the organ. Gildas: Yes, the organ is an imposing instrument but it has a very complex mechanism. This is why its maintenance is demanding.

The front of the organ and "the hidden reality"

LNO: What led you to play this instrument? Gildas: When I was studying music, I chose to learn the flute. I went through the Orléans Conservatory, before heading to the Paris Conservatory for conducting. It was only at the age of 17 that I discovered the vibratory power and beauty of the organ, also a wind instrument, while I was at a concert. I then worked these two instruments intensively and despite everything, it took me more than ten years to know how to play the organ correctly, because it is an orchestra on its own.

LNO: Actually, your main activity is that of conductor. Gildas: Yes, I am indeed the conductor of the "Musique des gardiens de la paix de la Préfecture de Police of Paris. I like music to express itself under my direction through wind instruments or pipes. In front of the musicians, I am uncovered, while in front of the keyboard of the organ, I am out of sight. It's liberating. LNO: On what occasions do you play? Gildas: With the other two organists of the cathedral, Arnaud Riffet and Olivier Salandini, we play for masses on weekends, for weddings, funerals or exceptional ceremonies. Personally, I find it rewarding to accompany people at important moments in their lives. LNO: This summer, on the occasion of the Au son des orgues festival, you share the keyboard with organists from all over the world: an American, a French person, a British person, a Swiss... Gildas: Indeed, the Cathedral Organ Committee has invited organists from here and elsewhere every year since its creation in 1974 to promote the great symphonic organ of the Cathedral of Orléans. This year, the theme of the festival is "Songs of Peace". The idea is that organists can translate through the choice of certain pieces what, for them, can evoke peace. This festival takes place every Sunday from 16:30 from July 9 to August 27. Those who wish to see the organ can also benefit from a visit every Sunday from 3pm to 4pm by booking with the Tourist Office.

Rehearsals with the American organist Mark Steinbach

La Nouvelle-Orléanaise Click here to find the festival program at the following address (Orléans Métropole website).


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