Cameron Carpenter has always taken a personal approach to playing the organ – a few years ago, he had his dream realized when the International Touring Organ made for him. He’ll be playing it at SFJAZZ Center tonight through Sunday, in concerts that will include works by J.S. Bach. The iconoclastic Carpenter says he focuses on the relationship he has with individual pieces, and his own approach, rather than trying to comprehend Bach’s complete output, with its logical and geometrical perfections.
You can find out more about the performances at the SFJAZZ website.
Playing the digital organ rather than instruments in cathedrals, he’s followed his own instincts for interpreting the music. “There does seem to be a status quo expectation that there’s a right and wrong way to play Bach, especially on the organ, or right and wrong sounds to use,” he says. “I don’t ask anybody to come to my concert to hear the true Bach, or anything. You just come to hear me play my impression of what these works mean, and you know, the relationship that I’ve had with them. That’s all I’m claiming, but after all, that’s all any musician can claim.” He’s gotten to know the works as individual personalities. “They’re basically all very different, they all have their own character, and they all spin off into some sort of other, unsettingly, perfectly proportionately balanced world.” And that world, of Golden Ratios, and invertible counterpoint has much to do with logic and mathematics. “One of the things that makes Bach’s music more organic, and more seemingly inevitable is that it does seem to exhibit some kind of fractal geometry, in much the same way the measurement of a coastline is endlessly recursive… How the hell do you write music like that, and how do we begin to understand it today? I can’t pretend to offer very much in the way of that, except that it seems to me the only hope is the individual approach. Because it’s only by the individual approach, and the individual interpretation that we stand to hear something new.”