Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
I never imagined I’d do anything other than music. As a child, but especially as soon as I discovered the organ at the age of 12, that was absolutely clear for me. Then, after hesitations between piano and organ, I definitely turned to the organ at 16 and never changed my mind again.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
There are so many that it is really difficult to speak about all of them… When I was between 12 and 16, I read a lot of music, I listened to many recordings, especially organ, piano, and orchestra. There are many pieces that I knew from memory, like most of the orchestral works by Ravel, Messiaen Trois petites liturgies, etc.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I would say that each time I put the fingers on a keyboard is a new challenge! There is no performance less important than another. The greatest challenges, in that case, are to try to do always better, always trying to go beyond our own limits.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
It is difficult to say about performances. Of the recordings, probably the organ works of Messiaen, and my last recordings, where I feel more and more myself, especially the latest, “Bach to the future”.
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
I am not sure that I am the right person to answer to this question… How can we be far enough to judge ourselves?
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
It depends mostly on the instruments that I have to play. On the organ, it is not possible to decide to play only a few pieces on each season. Each organ is different, and requires an appropriate repertoire. It happens that I have to play a tremendous amount of music each year! Can you imagine playing on a short time a German baroque organ, a French classical instrument, a Cavaillé-Coll, a concert hall organ, one or two concertos, and some chamber music? That makes more than six or seven hours of music…
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
Because the organs are always different, each venue is a new adventure. I remember that, some time ago, within one week, I performed at Notre-Dame, in Spain in a very small village with an historical instrument (a few stops on only one manual), at the Birmingham Symphony Hall, and on a French classical organ. Who else other than organists have those opportunities? We are fortunate to have organs everywhere, in churches, concert halls, castles, sometimes even in private houses!
Who are your favourite musicians?
Composers : Bach, Liszt, Ravel, Messiaen, Stravinsky
Performers : when I was teenager, I was really impressed (and still am today) by Seiji Ozawa, Samson François, Pierre Cochereau for improvisation. Other musicians came later, of course.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
After almost 2000 concerts, there are many!… My first appearance at the American Guild of Organists when I was 26, concerts at the Proms, on the greatests concerts halls around the world, the dedication of wonderful concert hall organs like the Verizon Hall in Philadelphia, the Maison Symphonique in Montreal or the Philharmonie de Paris… Or very special occasions, like a concert to collect money for the family of the victims right after September 11th, 2001, in New-York. At the end of the concert, I improvised on a hymn that everybody sang afterwards, accompanied by the organ and the orchestra. A victory of life after those tragic events.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
I don’t play music to have success. I could eventually change “success” by “happiness”. In fact, playing music, and especially organ, means trying to connect people to another dimension. We can call this dimension differently, depending on our faith, convictions, etc. But this is the most important for me now. Very often, while playing, I say to myself : “How is it possible that I realize something like this? I am not alone to play! God helps me!” From my point of view, a musician is a servant; we don’t have to put ourselves at the first position. It is even more the case on the organ, where very often, we play hidden from the audience, behind the organ in a loft at the back of a church…
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
Like now : everywhere around the world!
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Having someone coming after a performance (or a church service) and saying : “You made me find God!”
Olivier Latry’s new CD ‘Bach to the future’ (Audite) is released on 22 March 2019
Olivier Latry (born 22 February 1962) is a French organist, improviser and Professor of Organ in the Conservatoire de Paris.
Photo: William Beaucardet