In 1997, seven European cities established the international foundation ECHO: “European Cities of Historical Organs”. It is a union of European cities with historic organs and a festival or competition around those instruments. The goal is international exchange and cooperation, in the most diverse areas: documentation, projects, publications, scholarships, et cetera, and the construction of new instruments on historical examples.
Until recently, only one city per country could join ECHO. The cities that participated from the beginning were Innsbruck, Lisbon, Alkmaar, Roskilde, Treviso, Toulouse and Zaragoza. Later Brussels, Freiberg, Fribourg, Mafra and Trondheim were added, and very recently, after abandoning the “one-city-per-country” rule, the Flemish city of Leuven where the reconstructed Contius organ was recently inaugurated.
Regularly, ECHO organizes international conferences to facilitate the exchange of ideas.
Although the Netherlands was host country, and thus Alkmaar was the actual host city of the 2022 conference, the place of action was the Orgelpark in Amsterdam. The organization and presentation was in the hands of Bernard Foccroulle, current vice president of ECHO, and Hans Fidom, as scientist affiliated with the Amsterdam Orgelpark. As hosts and presenters, they introduced the speakers and program elements in virtuoso fashion.
The search for new organ audiences, which was the theme of the conference, proceeded along two routes. On the one hand it was investigated how twenty-first-century audiences can still be interested in classical music, and organ music in particular; on the other hand, how the recruitment of young organists (who, after all, will later also form the new audience) can be stimulated. In that context, I was asked to tell something about the teenage project StayTuned.nu.
Bernard Foccroulle, like no other, can clearly explain in a few rapt sentences what the current problems of the organ are, and set the stage for how we were going to look for answers in these two days. In his words, we are not searching for “more of the same” audience, but for truly new audiences. What audience are we organizing our concerts and festivals for? What population groups are missing from our audience, speaking of the desirability of “diversity”? Does the existing organ audience represent the population in the neighborhood, the city, the region? And how is the situation with other art disciplines like opera houses, or symphony orchestras?
For these very reasons, especially speakers from outside the organ world were invited to the conference. Of course, the organ has its own problems: the religious connotation, the persistent image problem, and an admittedly large repertoire that is unfortunately largely unknown to the classical music lover. These elements make organ culture an “exclusive,” difficult domain for outsiders to access.