From when I was a student, I based my ideal of playing the organ on observations on Bach's organ playing made by contemporaries of his. These observations all point in the same direction: that Bach was able to achieve a maximum of expression with a minimum of movements of hands and feet. Achieving more by doing less became a guideline for my daily practice and I recorded Messiaen's complete organ works and Reger's monumental "Variationen und Fuge über ein Originalthema op. 72" in this spirit.
Between 2003 and 2006, as a professor at Rotterdam Conservatoire, I carried out a research based on this approach and called it "The Art of Doing Nothing". Soon, associations with Taoism and Buddhism made me consider the idea also on a spiritual level, as a way of submitting the ego and transmitting music from a supernatural source to audiences. Looking back and staying at the level of craftsmanship, I nowadays prefer to speak of "The art of playing with relaxed precision".
Any ideal based on Bach is likely to require profound studies and in my case it concerns evidently a life project. Moreover, when I started to play the piano seriously, at the end of the '90s, I decided not to take lessons, but to become my own teacher and use my expertise as an organist. From the very start, it was clear that I should not play pieces from the repertoire, whether classical or jazz, but create my own exercises. Almost invariably, these exercises concentrate on a certain musical idea (an invention) which is generated by improvisation. An exercise may evolve into a composition, which in its turn may be a starting-point for new improvisations etc. Consequently, improvisation, interpretation and composition are parts of a cycle which is constantly repeated, as the heart beat of my daily practice.
Stylistically, my exercises soon left the field of Western classical music and moved towards avant-garde jazz and music from the East and Africa. However, as an improvising and composing pianist I remained faithful to my ideal of organ playing, to achieve a powerful expression with small movements only. In addition, the independence of left and right hand obtained through intense studies of organ works by Bach now benefits my skill to play rhythmic melodic patterns with one hand, while improvising with the other.
Besides J.S. Bach, my musical language is largely influenced by Olivier Messiaen. Memorizing his organ works in the past more than thirty years now allows me to transform his rhythms, melodies and harmonies and use them in new contexts, such as avant-garde jazz. See www.willemtanke.com