That interest in the organ in Scandinavia is on the rise is something that Johannus dealer Arnt Frode Strandskogen has much to say about. In recent years, he has seen the instrument emerge in dozens of churches and living rooms, largely through his own efforts.
He recently witnessed the installment of a Monarke Präludium in Olavshallen Concert Hall in Trondheim, Norway.
He first came into contact with Johannus twenty years ago. For Strandskogen, it was love at first sight. ‘I fell in love with the sound immediately. It was so close to the original sound of the pipe organ, and I’d never heard that before. No, I didn’t need to think for very long about whether I wanted to become a dealer in Norway.’ Johannus and Arnt Frode clicked, and the organ enthusiast began to spread the gospel of Johannus in Northern Europe.
Now he works full-time on spreading the word, and the story is catching on. There are already Johannus organs in more than 80 churches and more than a hundred Norwegian living rooms. ‘Building up a network here over the past few years has gone really well,’ says Strandskogen. ‘There is a lot of admiration for the way that Johannus organs reproduce the original pipe organ sound, particularly among professional musicians.’
It’s worth noting that there are not only senior music enthusiasts among Frode’s audience, but also a growing group of young potentials. ‘It appears that the organ is undergoing a revival in Norway. There are lots of organ courses on offer, and an increasing number of young people are enrolling in them. That is good to see.’
According to Strandskogen, the organ is also used frequently in orchestral settings in Norway. ‘The organ offers unprecedented opportunities for connection with different styles and instruments.’ Although a different set of instruments is regularly used for celebratory or memorial services, such as weddings and funerals, Frode is doing his best to promote the use of the organ in such celebrations. ‘Personally, I find the combination of organ and trumpet very beautiful. When talking to potential clients, I try to make them aware that the organ is not a static instrument; on the contrary, it is extremely flexible. However, there are certain prejudices with respect to the organ; for example, the idea that you can only play classical music on one. As far as I’m concerned, that is absolutely incorrect. I know good musicians who also use the organ to play popular music, for example.’
Frode is only too keen to let others hear this. As the dealer himself says, enthusiasm is his weapon. ‘If your heart is full of something, you can’t stop talking about it. When I visited Johannus in Ede a number of years ago, I was able to get a glimpse of the process behind the scenes. That was really impressive. Just as a doctor knows everything about the human body and a top lawyer is familiar with the legal code, Johannus is specialized in the capabilities of the digital organ. When you have so much knowledge and so much experience, you are simply miles ahead of the competition. You know, hear and feel from everything that you have got hold of the best of the best. That makes it possible for me to tell the Johannus story with conviction.’
For churches, he particularly emphasizes the uniqueness of the organ as an instrument in the Christian tradition. ‘There is no other religion so closely associated with the organ as Christianity. Some churches have discarded the organ somewhere in the course of their history. I see it a bit as my job to re-awaken appreciation of this instrument.’
The most suitable instrument for churches from the Johannus collection is naturally the Monarke. It is therefore no surprise that precisely this organ is at the top of Frode’s personal top three. ‘This organ takes you to the highest level. It is so close to the original pipe organ sound that the difference is barely discernible, or not at all.’
One of the places in which a Monarke has recently been installed is the Olavshallen Concert Hall, a famous concert hall built in 1989 in Norwegian Trondheim. The organ is a three-keyboard Monarke Präludium with 42 stops and a 36.4 audio system. For Strandskogen, this was a ‘big operation’. ‘This type of project takes a lot of time. For the concert hall, purchasing an organ is naturally a substantial investment; much discussion takes place before final decisions are made. The discussions started in 2013; two years later in 2015, the installation was complete.’
Part of the reason for this was that the Norwegian dealer was in discussions with various consultation partners. In the first place, there was the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra, as well as the concert hall itself and finally, the appointed concert organist, Erling With Aasgård. They all had their wishes and desires. An important condition, for example, was that the organ had to be flexible. ‘If the orchestra was to go on tour, they wanted to be able to take the organ with them. The result of this was that we mounted the console on wheels, so that the entire organ, including the loudspeakers, can be moved wherever they want to go. I think we have one of the most flexible organs in the world in the Olavshallen.’
A catalyst in the decision was the visit to the Nidaros Cathedral in 2015, the largest church in Norway, which has had a Monarke since 2013. ‘I invited all of the consultation partners to the cathedral to let them see and hear what the possibilities were with Johannus. That visit had an overwhelming effect; the orchestra, organist and the concert hall were unanimous that the organ for the Olavshallen had to be a Monarke. And so it happened.’
The bond between the Netherlands and Norway goes centuries and centuries back, Strandskogen remarks. ‘It began when the Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz discovered Spitsbergen in 1596. The fun thing is, more than 400 years later in 2015, a three-keyboard Johannus organ was installed in these islands, in the Svalbard church in Longyearbyen to be exact. It’s just a small church, you know. The funny thing is, it’s the most northern church in the world. So Johannus also installed its most northern organ in the world in this church. Personally, I was closely involved with that. The negotiations took place with the priest of the church and organist Jovna Dunfjell. They had received money from an old benefactor and could use it to buy this wonderful organ.’