Rich Variations with Patrick Kabanda

Nya Åland | Culture
By Lena Johanna Svartström | Translated from Swedish to English by Bruce Brolsma
Swedish Version: "Variationsrikt   med Patrick Kabanda
Published: June 25, 2009

Culture News:   Patrick Kabanda, who gave an organ concert at Saltvik Church on Tuesday evening, is the first organist in the Festival’s history who comes from Africa.  Kabanda is from Uganda, but today works in the USA. Reviewer Lena Johanna Svartström writes of a rich and varied concert.

Welcome to Åland, Mr. Kabanda!

From Uganda via USA to Åland… A long and somewhat unusual path, but others, like Patrick Kabanda, have taken winding paths to Åland to play the organ. You may recall the book about Johanna Grüssner’s year in the USA and her work with a children’s choir in the Bronx.  At the book’s release party, there was a certain Mr. Kabanda. And the rest is history, as the saying goes.

The first half of the concert, Kabanda played Mendelssohn, Liszt, and Bach. Thus, quite traditional. What I especially noted was the registration: from the majestic and large Con Moto Maestosa to warm, friendly consoling in the Andante Tranquillo in Mendelssohn’s first sonata. The Allegro, which began the second sonata got my foot tapping in rhythm. Liszt’s Adagio conveyed a warm and friendly tone, and Bach was Bach. "Active," I noted about the Prelude.


A little pause followed,  a break to give time for registration. It became something more. The organ builder and, moreover, the man who tunes the organs before the concerts, Hans Heinrich, was summoned hastily: a pipe wanted to continue sounding.

One needs to know the instrument very well or have very sharp hearing to catch the problem.  Heinrich requested us, playfully, to breath a little less. The temperature in the church had risen due to our presence, which caused the problem with the organ’s tuning. That was the intermezzo!

Afterward, the music could continue again. Time for Messiaen and La Nativité du Seigneur. The work was introduced, as were all the other pieces during the evening, by Erland Mattson, and there was no mistaking his love for Messiaen. In the first part, the Lord said to me: You are my son, lay a ground chord and shape a spiral motion;  on it is built a powerful melody. The second part’s meditation on eternal life and God’s mercy caused me to sit almost paralyzed, staring into a candle flame.

Amusing, Energetic

What a contrast,  with Zsolt Gárdonais’ "Mozart changes!", a work written for a festival in Oklahoma in 1996. Rococo-clad ladies striptease to a theme from a Mozart sonata, it’s a little bit cute. But hey, what’s this? A jazz band glides in and takes over the show. We are taken to a dance club of a wholly different type. The organ becomes a whole band; think, to be able to improvise by oneself within an instrument! The ballet-dancing ladies return, but the competitors get the last word. Amusing and energetic music.

Patrick Kabanda continued with an improvisation on a Japanese lullaby. Persistently, a chord from the organ remains suspended. Muffled registration; the melody crept quietly, in nocturnal mist. But suddenly, there appears a phrase from Sibelius’  Finlandia.  And a moment later, the Åland national anthem. It sharpens the mind to try discovering the clues that could come next.

And yet another improvisation: When We Share the Bread Which He Gave Us (a Negro spiritual).  Light registration, an open sound. Kabanda had quickly become acquainted with the organ in Saltvik in order to entice such disparate sounds. Registration assistant Katrin Gwardak had quite enough work to do!

Jazzy Ending

To end, John Weaver’s Variations on Sine Nomine ("Without Name") was in honor of All Saints, Erland Mattson informed us. A jazzy piece which, in his versatility of associations and citations of, for example, When The Saints Go Marching In,  got me thinking of Charles Ives "Central Park in the Dark". Only,  Weaver’s work had much more traditional harmonies.

Appreciative applause caused a sympathetic Kabanda to offer an encore. Again, a total contrast: Handel’s peaceful Largo caused us to land softly.

Thank you for a multifaceted journey, Mr. Kabanda.

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