Henk: I started to play the piano when I was 8 years old, which is not early. My family was more a reading, academic family, not a very musical one. My motivation to study music was the big Arp Schnitger organ in the St. Michaelis church in Zwolle (the Netherlands) where I grew up, with a famous baroque prospect, 66 stops, 4 manuals and pedal. I studied the organ 5 years and played my examination on this Schnitger instrument. Next to the organ, displaced by two years, I studied orchestra conducting. I took actively part in master classes by Kurt Masur and Heinz Rögner (Chief conductor of the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra of Berlin) and worked indeed some years as a conductor in Germany, before I got first cantor in Bautzen, then cantor and musical Director of the Zwickau Cathedral.
J:Please describe your position and responsibilities at the Zwickau Cathedral. Henk: I am cantor, organist and musical Director. As a cantor, I lead two Choirs, work with children and manage the whole Church music program in services and concerts. In three other churches that belong to our congregation, I am responsible for the music too, even though I cannot play and conduct everywhere. The cathedral choir does not sing every Sunday. The singers are all unpaid amateurs from the whole area. We perform three big concerts a year with orchestra. The repertoire incorporates the important Oratorio works from, for instance, Bach (St. Matthews and St. Johns Passion, Christmas Oratorio, High Mass and cantatas); Brahms (Requiem); Dvorak (Stabat mater); Fauré (Requiem); Mozart (Requiem, Masses); Mendelssohn (several oratorios); Händel (Messiah); Haydn (The Creation and Masses); Verdi (Requiem); and other Masses by Schumann, Schubert and Puccini. As an organist, I play the organ in services, prayers and concerts and organize guest concerts in the Cathedral. I play two or three services a Sunday. I play about 15 concerts during the year, alone or with an instrumental or vocal soloist. The concerts on the 24th and 31st of December are very popular. As a musical director I take part in regional committees of the church in matters of musical concern, I advise congregations in musical questions and am the musical superior of the colleagues in the district. I teach young people in playing organ too.
J:Please share an interesting story about serving as a cantor and organist in this historic church. Henk: The gothic Cathedral in Zwickau (between Leipzig and Dresden) was built between about 1450 and 1565. It has a valuable interior, above all a winged high altar, statues and pictures. The church musicians of former centuries were well known at their time, and most of them were composers. My most famous forerunner was Johann Ludwig Krebs, Bach’s master pupil. A number of forerunners are painted and their distinguished oil paintings are hanging onthe wall beside the organ. In particular, Krebs observes me strictly during my daily walk along the pictures to the organ. In 1810 Robert Schumann was born in Zwickau. He was member of our congregation. He was not baptized in the church but at home. His first piano teacher was my forerunner Kuntsch. Schumann’s first composition was Psalm 100 for Children Chorus and instruments. As a 12-year old child, Schumann had in my church one of his first public performances in an oratorio as keyboard player.
J:Please describe the organ at the Cathedral and the work that is being done to enhance and renovate it. Henk: The organ was built in 1969 as a new baroque instrument with 77 stops, 5400 pipes, four manuals and pedal. It was one of the biggest new church organs at that time in the eastern part of Germany. However, recently renovations have started on the instrument as the technical substance was not well. After being cleaned from mould and fungus, all diagonal bracings had to be rebuilt from solid wood. At the moment the electric cabling has to be renewed because of fire danger in the organ. For that reason, the Cathedral now collects money to complete the organ restoration.
J:I know you are also a concert organist. Where are your upcoming performances? Henk: Besides the duties in the Cathedral and concerts in this area I have not much time for big tours. The most beautiful experience as a guest I had this year was in the rebuilt Frauenkirche in Dresden. I had the honor to play organ works and conduct cantatas by Krebs and Bach. Back to your question: In the summer 2011 I have a number of concerts in beautiful Cathedrals in the south of France and at the east coast of England. I love both: French culture and the English-American musical tradition. By the way, I should have had a big tour this year, my first to the USA. I was invited by the AGO Connecticut and Wyoming. Preparing this tour was a time-consuming business for my friends from the AGO as well as for me. The day of my flight to the USA was the first day of the Island volcano eruption in April. So my tour was dropped out! Now I am trying to organize a second tour in the year 2012 between 19 April and 7 May and I am still searching facilities for concerts.
J:Thank you, Henk for sharing this glimpse of your musical life with all of us.