Last Saturday, July 23, the final of our improvisation competition took place in the Grote of St. Bavo Church. However, the evening did not produce a winner. The jury, chaired by the German organist and improviser Ansgar Wallenhorst, indicated that it expected more innovation, creativity and originality. In order to give a quality boost to not only the Haarlem improvisation competition, but also to the art of improvisation in general, she decided not to award a prize yesterday.

Since 1951, the Improvisation Competition has been the heart of the International Organ Festival Haarlem, which takes place every other year in Haarlem and attracts visitors from all over the world. Last week, eight young musicians shared their passion for the organ with colleagues and the public. The organists Sebastian Benetello (D), Marcel Eliasch (D), Niklas Jahn (D), Cyril Julien (CH) and Evan Bogerd (NL) were eliminated after two rounds of improvisation. The organists Harmen Trimp (NL), David Kiefer (D) and Wouter van der Wilt (NL) were the three finalists last night. They were instructed to play two improvisations, one based on a newly composed theme by Thomas Lacôte and a free improvisation as an accompaniment to three silent films of approximately a hundred years old.

The international jury, consisting of Zuzana Ferjenčíková (SLO/A), Vincent Thévenaz (CH), Dominik Susteck (D), Martijn Padding (NL), Gerben Mourik (NL) and chaired by Ansgar Wallenhorst (D), did not declare a winner out. According to them, the organists lacked new and experimental improvisation techniques. However, the public was able to vote and the public prize (1000 euros) was awarded to the Dutch Harmen Trimp.

Innovation and innovation in particular are central to the festival's mission. With each new edition, the jury expects new playing techniques, stimulating improvisation experiments and inspiring sound worlds. According to the jury, the results fell short of expectations.

When asked, jury chairman Ansgar Wallenhorst stated:

“Haarlem has always been the place where the art of improvisation is the best in the world. Every organist looks up to this festival. It's a place of invention, originality, and creativity. Due to the pandemic organists missed the routine of concerts, collaborations, and interaction with an audience. We think this is one of the reasons the improvisation performances of the participants of the International Organ festival Haarlem lacked the outstanding level of improvisation Haarlem is known for: surprising the audience with new routes, experimental techniques, unique improvisations one never heard before.

As a jury we feel responsible to keep the high level of the Haarlem Improvisation contest for the future and decided not to give the prize to one of the finalists, but we advise the Board of the International Festival Haarlem to use the prize money as an investment in young talent in organ improvisation. We, as a jury, feel strongly connected with the festival and are dedicated to supporting these young talents in their journey to excellence in any way that we can.”

The board of the International Organ Festival will consider the above advice and will provide more news about the purpose of the prize money later this year.

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