From the current issue of Choir & Organ
The Royal Festival Hall organ is back up and running, and what a triumph were the two weeks of concerts, exhibitions and lectures in March that trumpeted its return. With renewed clarity of sound, and with recitalists in turn demonstrating just how convincing this instrument can be in a plethora of musical styles, the 1954 Harrison & Harrison shone night after night to packed houses, and to a listening world courtesy of BBC Radio 3’s residency, forming with performers and interviewees an eloquent alliance of advocates for the instrument and its repertoire – for two weeks at least, the organ came in from the cold. Three resounding cheers and a loud ‘bravo’ to the Harrison & Harrison team and to curator William McVicker.
This issue, Meurig Bowen explains how vital it is to commission new music. As artistic director of Cheltenham Music Festival, Bowen has inherited a tradition of commissioning to add to his own record in that field. In April we met in Oxford, for a Passiontide at Merton concert. Works for the Orgelbüchlein Project, including Stephen Hough’s chorale prelude (March/April New Music), preceded the premiere of Gabriel Jackson’s The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Anyone questioning the value of commissioning new music should have been there. The organ pieces demonstrated how much scope there still is in the chorale prelude form; and the Passion showed how, inspiring though Bach’s St Matthew and St John are, there is so much more we can learn about the events that took place 2,000 years ago. Jackson’s sometimes searing scoring shed different hues on familiar biblical texts, while complementary non-biblical texts invited fresh understanding of the mystery of death and life. So three more resounding cheers for new works – for those who commission them, and for the composers who have the courage to write what they believe and who stick their necks on the block every time a premiere comes around.