Foto: Michael Reinhard
Tonhalle Organ

The «Servants» of our «Queen»

The organ is the largest instrument that is heard in the concerts of the Tonhalle-Gesellschaft Zürich. But who actually takes care of it?

Franziska Gallusser

4764 pipes, 25'500kg in weight and 67 sounding stops – these figures belong to the instrument that has been enthroned at the head of the renovated Grosse Tonhalle since the 2021/22 season: our Kuhn organ. This season, the «Queen of Instruments» will be used in different concerts, such as the International Organ Days Zurich, where it will take centre stage for three days. For this to be possible, however, much has to be planned, considered and prepared in advance.

The organ builder as supervisor

In order for the organ to be ready for every concert, maintenance and tuning work must be carried out. This task is taken on by the Davos-born organ builder Stephan Wioland of Orgelbau Kuhn AG. He has been looking after the organs in the Tonhalle since 1996 – so he also regularly maintained the previous instrument. And how does tuning work? «It's a complex matter and requires an exceptionally good ear,» Wioland explains. «Various devices are attached to the pipes where detunings are corrected by length adjustments. Depending on how out of tune the organ is, individual stops are retuned, which can take different amounts of time.» And how could the instrument become severely out of tune? «The room temperature in the Tonhalle plays a central role,» says Wioland. So it must not be too cold, but also not too warm in the hall. Since the redesign of the house, the environment is ideal for the instrument.

The Artistic Directors of the International Organ Days Zurich

Once the instrument is ready, the organists can arrive to practise on it. To make sure this works, Tobias Willi, organ professor at the Zurich University of the Arts ZHdK, is often ready in the middle of the night. When all the concerts are over and the hall is empty, he introduces the musicians to the peculiarities of the organ. He also introduces the instrument on request as part of guided tours and ensures that it is played regularly – which he enjoys: «Of course I enjoy being able to play such an instrument. I admit that the first time I practised alone on the organ, I arrived at 10.30 p.m. – and when I looked at the clock again, it was already 2.00 a.m.!»

"I find the organ incredibly beautiful in sound. The Tonhalle-Gesellschaft Zürich can be proud of this instrument. It offers an enormous number of possibilities, and you are simply happy as a player."

Tobias Willi about the Tonhalle organ

Tobias Willi has been organ director since the 2022/23 season. This season, he is taking over the artistic direction of the Internationale Orgeltage Zürich together with Iveta Apkalna. What does that mean? They are jointly designing the programme for the festival. An exciting task, because "the organ is suitable for the entire repertoire", says Christian Schmitt, who has been instrumental in the design of this organ for four years and has co-curated the Orgeltage in the last two years. "Bach, pre-baroque or romantic music all work extremely well, and modern music has also been considered. With the latest technology, you can also make loops and connect instruments such as synthesisers for 21st century music. You can also play and record immediately, as the organ has a computer."

The financial supporters

"It's the beautiful, full and warm sounding fundamental tone of this instrument and the enormous variety of sounds, which is ideal for solo performances as well as for playing with other instruments and with the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, that never ceases to amaze," enthuses Hans-Peter Fricker, President of the Freundeskreis neue Zürcher Tonhalle-Orgel. The aim of the association is to make the instrument resound as often as possible so that it "becomes increasingly well-known and popular". The first fruit of this work was the three consecutive organ days at Whitsun 2022 – a format that will now take place annually.

The idea of founding an association to make such organ days possible arose in discussions between Fricker and the Vice President and Treasurer of the Tonhalle-Gesellschaft Zürich, Hans G. Syz, and the President of the Tonhalle-Gesellschaft Zürich, Martin Vollenwyder; they are now all members of the board. It consists of six members in total, with a mini-office supporting them in their administrative work. And how exactly does this association make the organ "resound"? "We have undertaken," says Fricker, "to cover the direct costs for the five concerts of the Organ Days. This means that the Board is primarily involved in fundraising." The board also liaises closely with the artistic directors. Together, they plan a varied programme with outstanding organists – all in the service of the "Queen".

Translated with

May 2024
Mon 20. May

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Staatschor Latvija, Māris Sirmais Conductor, Iveta Apkalna Orgel Rogg, Byrd, Langlais, Britten, Elgar, Purcell, Escaich, Gardiner
Mon 20. May

Internationale Orgeltage Zürich: Mit Trompeten nach Tschechien

Otto Sauter Piccolo-Trompete, Moises Cerros Piccolo-Trompete, Irmtraud Tarr Orgel Filas, Karg-Elert, Vejvanowský, Querfurth, Biber von Bibern, Zariņš, Anonymus (Torelli Schule), Widor, Filas
Sun 19. May

Internationale Orgeltage Zürich: Das Phantom der Oper – Film und Orgel

Thierry Escaich Orgel Escaich
Sun 19. May

Internationale Orgeltage Zürich: Orgel und Literatur

Master-Studierende der Orgelklassen von Prof. Andreas Jost & Prof. Tobias Willi , Jessica Bosshard Orgel, Joanna Krauze Orgel, Soyoung Lee Molitor Orgel, Tatiana Radkewitsch Orgel, Nina Roth Orgel, Till Schaffnit Lesung, Tobias Willi Moderation Bach, Reger, Alain, Vogt, Saint-Saëns, Widor
Sat 18. May

International Organ Days Zurich: Opening Concert with Iveta Apkalna

Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, Dima Slobodeniouk Conductor, Iveta Apkalna Orgel Jongen, Berlioz
published: 24.04.2024