Two artists, an “unplayable” symphony performed in Iowa, and the impulses that drive us to tackle the impossible.
That’s the subject of a new documentary film in the works by two University of Iowa professors that centers on the eight-hour inauguration of the Klais Organ in the Voxman Music Building. The pair are raising funds through GOLDrush, the University of Iowa’s crowdfunding platform, to complete the production of the film.
“Usually an organ inauguration is a short concert, followed by champagne. But here it was a guy who was tortured for eight hours,” joked Oleg Timofeyev, UI Visiting Assistant Professor and one of the film’s directors.
Timofeyev and UI Associate Professor of German and Director of Comparative Literature Sabine Gölz have been collaborating since 2000 to create documentary films. Sorabji in Iowa will be their fifth.
Timofeyev had a front seat on the events that led to the historical concert on Feb. 10. In 2012, world-renowned organist Kevin Bowyer at the University of Glasgow came to Iowa City to perform. After the concert, Timofeyev and Associate Professor of Organ Gregory Hand took Bowyer, a beer connoisseur, out to sample some of fares from area microbreweries.
Over pints, they learned that Bowyer was a child prodigy who won many early successes and awards. He told them the story of wandering the library stacks and finding an obscure organ symphony by composer Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji that no one played because it was so difficult. After years of work, he finally mastered the two-hour long First Organ Symphony by Sorabji. Bowyer later met the composer and discovered he had two additional symphonies that had never been published because they were considered unplayable.
“He spent literally 20 or 30 years figuring out how to play the second symphony,” recounted Timofeyev. “There were a lot of impossible places to play because basically the organist didn’t have enough fingers. There are certain discrepancies between piano and organ, and the composer didn’t even play organ. Sorabji was a very good pianist and he vaguely knew how organ worked, but he didn’t really have a strong understanding of organ.”
Timofeyev described Sorabji as an introverted, “mysterious figure.” Sorabji practiced yoga before it was mainstream, was gay in an era before it was acceptable in society, and was of Indian descent in an all-white organ world.
In 2010, Bowyer finally performed Sorabji’s Second Organ Symphony, once in Glasgow and then in Amsterdam a few weeks later.
“It would have been easy for him to keep playing what he played, be the best and enjoy life. But he just gets attracted by this impossible task and gets pulled into this black hole,” said Timofeyev. “People in his life say it was not necessarily good. Something broke in him. But he just had to do it. It is beyond good and evil.”
After this story of the impossible symphony was shared over pints, Hand convinced Bowyer to perform Sorabji’s Second Organ Symphony once again in Iowa – likely for the last time due to the physical and personal toll it takes to prepare and perform the symphony.
Compelled by the story, Timofeyev and Gölz fronted their own money to begin production of a documentary of the event. Now they are seeking to raise $8,000 to cover the cost of editing, postproduction and distribution. To donate, visit: https://goldrush.uiowa.edu/
“Sorabji was a very idiosyncratic composer who was just doing his own thing,” said Timofeyev. “He passed along not only this symphony but this concept of doing your own thing to Kevin [Bowyer],” said Timofeyev. “For Kevin, this piece was his personal Mt. Everest.”
A short teaser of the documentary is below:
The University of Iowa Foundation and Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development are looking for future GOLDrush projects that have a compelling story, a reasonable dollar goal and a team of individuals that will share the campaign with their personal network of friends, colleagues, family members and other potential donors. Project proposals may be submitted through the online GOLDrush crowdfunding application.
The University of Iowa Foundation’s mission is to advance the University of Iowa and fulfill the aspirations of those it serves. The university’s dedicated contributors fund a broad array of needs, from student scholarships, breakthrough research and life-changing health care to innovative facilities, community outreach and global education. More at www.uifoundation.org and on Twitter: @givetoiowa.
The Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development provides resources and support to researchers and scholars at the University of Iowa and to businesses across Iowa with the goal of forging new frontiers of discovery and innovation and promoting a culture of creativity that benefits the campus, the state, and the world. More at http://research.uiowa.edu, and on Twitter: @DaretoDiscover.