‘My chapel hosts more concerts than church services’

His private chapel in the Vosges holds an impressive Monarke, and at home he is preparing to welcome the new LiVE. French organist Patrice Pisterman swears by Johannus. “My history with them goes way back.”

Patrice Pisterman has probably never had so much time to enjoy playing his Johannus organs as he does today. Born in France in 1948, he spent more than 40 years as a hydrological engineer leading the successful Hydro Power Plant (HPP), a large organization that designs and builds water turbines for clients around the world. But he recently sold the company and went into semi-retirement.

Family estate

A businessman in heart and soul, he isn’t one to just sit around the house, if only because he still has to manage his family’s estate. The village of Droiteval, just to the south of Vittel in the Vosges mountains, has been in the possession of the Pisterman family since 1906. Its many charms include a centuries-old cloister and a beautiful chapel. The valley in which it is located is known for its natural beauty: wooded hills, the babbling Ourche stream, and a placid lake. Pisterman loves to visit his ancestral home. “We spend the winters in our house in Nancy, but my wife and I come to live here in the summer. It is just so beautiful.”

When he is not enjoying the picturesque panorama views on sunny summer days, Pisterman can often be found in the Cistercian chapel on his estate. The Romanesque house of worship dates from the 12th century, but the 18-meter high belfry was added in 1848. Measuring just 40 meters long by eight meters wide, the church is a quaint and intimate structure, which houses a black Madonna – a stone statue that also dates from the 12th century – and a wooden pieta. A crucifix adorns another wall; evidence of the building’s rich religious history. “But today, the church hosts more concerts than church services”, says Pisterman. “That hasn’t always been the case.”

First organ

That fact is due in part to the expansive Monarke hybrid organ that Johannus installed in the chapel in 2015. But Johannus has a much longer relationship with Pisterman: he bought the first organ for the chapel in 1992. “My first Johannus organ was an Excellent.”

Years later, in 2000, Pisterman purchased a large pipe organ with 51 voices divided over three keyboards, so the digital Excellent had to go. The installation of the new instrument was a major challenge, Pisterman says, both in a musical sense and with regard to the building’s construction. “The organ had to be lowered considerably, because it was too tall for the church. But that meant that it had to be moved forward, and is now located between the two pedal towers. The keyboards were moved back towards the window, and the Great division ended up above the keyboard. The recit is divided among two Swell cabinets (C- C#-side) and is located towards the rear of the organ. Every transmission of the pipe organ is fully mechanical, without a Barker machine.”

Digital and mechanical reunited

When Pisterman came to Johannus for a hybrid organ solution in 2015, the pipe organ and the digital heritage were wonderfully reunited. Each transmission was fitted with an electronic relay on top of the mechanical transmissions. The installation of the new console alone took three days. Pisterman: “We took measures to prepare the mechanics of the organ before we took delivery of the 300 windchest relays to control the 51 pipe organ stops. My staff, some electricians and automation specialists made sure that the mechanical organ was connected perfectly to the digital organ provided by Johannus. The Johannus team collaborated wonderfully with ours.”

Thanks to the complex adjustments, Pisterman can now play the three-keyboard pipe organ from the nave of his chapel. A fourth, digital, keyboard was also added, and the organ received a large number of digital voices, bringing the total for the hybrid organ up to 89. “The competitors just weren’t capable of realizing such a fantastic combination of digital and pipe organs in this specific manner. The result is a fantastic instrument in every detail.”

Since he was 14

After selling his company and moving to Droiteval for the summers, Pisterman can often be found sitting at his organ. “I’ve been playing the organ since I was 14. At the conservatory in Nancy, I studied under the French organist Pierre Cortellezzi, who was also the titular organist of the Cathedral of Nancy.”

In the summer, the chapel is open to the public. Pisterman organizes concerts and enjoys giving other organists the opportunity to put the organ through its paces. “But I always ask them to play a few notes before I give my blessing.” 

According to Pisterman, the visitors have never noticed that they were listening to a hybrid organ. “I’ve asked several people, including a few organists, to listen to the organ, and none of them have ever remarked on the difference between the digital voices and the pipe voices.”

Back to Nancy

As soon as the leaves begin to fall in Droiteval, Pisterman and his wife return to their home in Nancy. Fortunately, they also have a Johannus at their fingertips there as well. In 1995, the Frenchman purchased a Monarke, and in 2016 he ordered a new three-keyboard Johannus LiVE. “It should arrive any day now. I was able to test the organ at the Johannus showroom in Ede. It looked absolutely fantastic, and it sounded very convincing.”

Pisterman occasionally travels to the Netherlands to see the developments within Johannus at first hand, but the staff of Johannus are regular guests in France as well. “I’ve had a special relationship with this organization from the very beginning”, says Pisterman. “I’ve known Dirk Koudijs for years, and we’ve developed a very friendly relationship. I also have very pleasant contacts with other people from Johannus, and we often meet here in Droiteval, as friends and as organ lovers.”