World-famous organist, Xavér Varnus buys a church in Canada to make it a concert hall
"The church is very tall. Just over the organ, there is a beautiful stained glass window. On the side of the church windows, I can see the ocean … this is one of the most amazing things."
Xavér Varnus, the Hungarian-Canadian organist legend – known for performing the music of Johan Sebastian Bach in the most impressive cathedrals worldwide – recently bought the Pilgrim United Church in Brooklyn, N.S., Canada, where he can play Bach in his pajamas and support the organ players of the world. He now calls the church Varnus Hall and plans to invite the most prominent music talents after the Covid crisis.
The organ in the Varnus Hall (source: cbc.ca)
The internationally acknowledged artist moved to Berlin and later to Canada out of cultural desperation due to the lack of adequate domestic music management in Hungary. He moved to Germany – a country with many beautiful concert memories – after receiving a significant award in Hungary in 2010. He said he needed something new after receiving more attention and celebration than any other organ players in the world. He has been giving twenty-twenty five concerts every month for more than twenty years. In contrast, these years he only spends one month per year with shows and tries to enjoy friends, walks, literature, and music in the remaining eleven.
He moved to Canada in 2019 as he is a Canadian citizen since his teenage years, his sons live there, and Canada has always been one of the countries he loved the most. After enjoying Canadian life and culture for some months, the whole city got under lockdown due to Covid, and he started to suffer from not being able to leave the house.
He found the hundred and seventy-year-old Pilgrim United Church and parish in Canada’s “flower garden” Nova Scotia while looking for places in the countryside to escape.
The church was built in the 1840s as a congregational church and then replaced in the 1890s. The organ artist compared it to an old castle. "Somehow, on the internet, I found this church," he said. "It reminded me of one of my old memories. Twenty-five years ago, I had a very nice friend here in Nova Scotia. His name was Bob Stead, and he was the mayor of the city of Wolfville. And actually, he tried to seduce me to move to Nova Scotia. But 25 years ago, I was too young for Nova Scotia." – Varnus told in an As It Happensinterview.
"The church is very tall. Just over the organ, there is a beautiful stained glass window. On the side of the church windows, I can see the ocean … this is one of the most amazing things. It's very good for the organ because you can hear everything clearly."
The Pilgrim United Church and parish (source: cbc.ca)
As the church in Brooklyn, N.S. did not have an organ, he started looking and quickly found one in an organist Facebook group for sale nearby. He bought the fantastic concert organ and built it in his own church. "Nobody's controlling me anymore," he said. "Now I'm alone and I can play as loud as I like.... Sometimes I play in pyjamas, of course. But there isn't any rule that we have to play only in tuxedos. So, fortunately, I can be dressed like that.” Comparing it to playing in sold-out venues, he said: “It's my organ and my church … that is completely different because I am more emotional with this."
People in the neighborhood love the new function of the church and the musician living there. People from the neighborhood visit him every day to listen to his music. He also explained in the As It Happens interview that a vast crowd was following the events when the organ arrived. Pop and rock ‘n’ roll fans were also there day by day, excited by the new instrument’s arrival and asking Varnus to play different pieces.
Now that Xaver is the owner of the Varnus Hall – a private concert hall for two hundred and fifty people – he plans to invite great musicians to play there. Violin artist Barnabás Kelemen will play there with his string quartet soon, and Varnus is giving concerts as well. The tickets were sold out in all cases within hours, and he is constantly receiving letters from musicians wanting to play at Varnus Hall. He plans to continue his work and invite musicians and young talents to help them become well-known by giving concerts. He is committed to making orang music a concert genre globally, as it is still a sub-culture, usually attracting smaller audiences.
Speaking about the music industry, Varnus finds it crucial to have professional concert management in a country with good quality services for the artists and with expert marketing strategies. Properly advertised concerts are significant in building the musicians’ own brand and reaching the audience. From the artist’s side, it is essential to be visible and well communicated on the internet to get in touch with the audience and the organizers. As he explained, there are serious problems regarding this professional concert management in Hungary.
Varnus himself is impressive at the online presence and in the online marketing of his music. His YouTube channel just reached 24 million viewers, which is considered monumental in the classical music world. One of his famous concerts – a Bach show in the Berlin Cathedral from 2013 – has 9.5 million views at this point, making it the most-watched organ concert film of all time. He has an extensive fan camp covering the whole world. He claims that classical music has been given a fantastic opportunity through the internet, making it possible to take Bach’s music to any point of the world easily. Luckily, this will never substitute the transcendent atmosphere of a real concert. Still, it helps in awakening the desire to attend one.
Cover Image: Xavér Varnus in the Varnus Hall