Organ performance highlights connection between South Bend and Paris


The sounds of the organ reverberated off the walls of the Reyes Organ Hall on Tuesday, February 25 when Olivier Latry performed twice for a packed audience. One of three titular organists at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, Latry is one of the most distinguished in his field. The event was sponsored by the Nanovic Institute and had to be selective in its invitations, due to space restrictions and the calibre of the performance.

Latry came out to the audience to explain his “very strange program” of music, which spanned several time periods and genres. His last piece was an improvisation on a tune that had been revealed to him only moments before. Carmen Tellez, Professor of Music at Notre Dame, commented on this improvisation:

“I attended the 7 p.m. performance, which ostensibly was slightly different from the 9 p.m. performance in that Monsieur Latry improvised on Notre Dame’s victory march. At 9 p.m. he improvised on a Syriac song transcribed on the spot by Professor Tala Jarjour. The improvisation I heard was like the rest of the recital, played with great verve, virtuosity and wit.”

Though a notable event in and of itself, this performance was a symbolically important concert for the developing relationship between the University of Notre Dame and the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris. “An official partnership has not yet begun,” Tellez told the Rover. “What we have is several conversations and a great interest from individual artists on both sides to initiate regular exchanges and potentially ambitious projects. Anthony Monta and Professor Craig Cramer have entertained this possibility for a while now, specifically concerning potential exchanges for organists. In my capacity as director of the choral conducting program and of our elite ensemble Notre Dame Vocale, I traveled to the Cathedral last summer to meet with its maitrise of distinguished choral conductors that includes Lionel Sow and Sylvain Dieudonné, and we discussed possible long-term collaborations. Everyone thinks this collaboration is very natural, and we are all going to work towards it.”

The Rover had the opportunity to speak with Anthony Monta, Associate Director of the Nanovic Institute, about Latry’s visit.

Irish Rover: Why are you excited about Olivier Latry’s visit to Notre Dame?

Anthony Monta: For many reasons. I’m excited primarily for our students. Imagine a one-on-one teaching clinic for a student athlete—say, a point guard spending an hour with Michael Jordan, or a quarterback with Joe Montana. We have world-class teachers at Notre Dame in every field, and we can amplify what they do by bringing in eminent practitioners from Europe.

Mr. Latry for example is a musician of the very highest calibre. He is widely regarded in musical circles to be one of the very best organists and organ teachers in the world. It is exciting that our students will get to hear and learn from an undisputed master. They all clamored for participation in the masterclass, so they had to draw names randomly from a hat. Three of the four students selected were in their first year of studies. Can you imagine how exciting this will be for them? It’s exciting to see them so inspired.

How does this performance fit in with the mission of the Nanovic Institute and with the other events it puts on throughout the year?

The mission of the Institute is to create a home for students and faculty to explore the evolving ideas, cultures, beliefs, and institutions that shape Europe today. Mr. Latry’s position is at the center of one of the Church’s, Europe’s, and world’s great and influential musical institutions. I’m sure many of your readers know that Notre Dame de Paris was the first place where singers and composers who knew how to harmoniously combine different melodies sung at the same time (“polyphony”) produced such music that gained international circulation and prestige. Even today, Notre Dame de Paris still serves as a focal point for anyone with compositional aspirations, especially in sacred music.

Moreover, Notre Dame in Paris has not sat still: it has evolved and remains a very active and central node in Europe’s musical network. The cathedral now employs a group of musicians and teachers like Mr. Latry who, aside from their dazzling brilliance as players, are exuberantly supportive of new music written for the Church at the highest level. There is a tremendous vitality there at the moment that is also extremely astute—a rare combination. At the Nanovic Institute, we want Notre Dame to be in touch with that kind of place. We were fortunate to be in a position to help make it happen.

This visit fits in with other events we sponsor throughout the year in that, like all our visits, this one aims to put Notre Dame students and faculty into a working relationship with people and institutions in Europe that share our desire to educate the mind and heart together, to the highest level of excellence, and for the common good. The common good in this case is the musical culture of the Catholic church and its inclusivity. The Church still has artists with the highest abilities and aspirations. Why are they not heard? Are they welcome? If so, how can they be supported and their good influence felt? As Mr. Latry said himself, it is natural for us to work together on this.

How were you able to reach out to Latry and secure this performance?

Gradually, with pleasure, and a lot of help. A relative of Mr. Nanovic’s at the French Cultural Services in New York paved the way for an introduction. I visited Mr. Latry in Paris in the loft at Notre Dame twice, most recently for nearly a full Sunday in 2011. Monica Caro, my colleague at Nanovic, a legal eagle, shepherded the contract through General Counsel and Mr. Latry’s agent. Melanie Webb and our staff at Nanovic are whizzes at logistics. Professors Craig Cramer, Carmen Tellez, Margot Fassler, Peter Jeffery, Michael Driscoll, Duncan Stroik, Carter Snead, and other faculty were supportive with their time and assistance. Professor Cramer especially should be thanked for allowing the Fritts organ to serve as the field for Mr. Latry’s at times hair-raising athleticism. Andrew McShane and Fr. Peter Rocca at the Basilica were an important help, as was of course Anna Thompson, Ted Barron, and the terrific staff at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. Last, I want to mention Joseph Vitacco of JAV Recordings in Brooklyn and Daniel Brondel, organist at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, both of whom came through with great kindnesses.

Liz Everett is a senior PLS and English major, and is happy that she got to catch up on her mystery reading over spring break. Contact her at