Vicar blasts ‘cringeworthy’ beatbox machines
30 January 2013
Dr Giles FraserBBC
Dr Giles Fraser, former canon of St Paul’s Cathedral, and now vicar of St Mary's, Newington, has condemned karaoke-style recorded music devices in churches as ‘cringeworthy beatbox machines with no gravitas.’
Interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, along with Westminster Abbey sub-organist Robert Quinney, Dr Fraser said, ‘In the liturgy, a musician sitting at an organ needs to react sensitively to what's going on; a machine can’t do that and you can hear how inappropriate a machine's intervention is when it gets it wrong.’
Asked by presenter Jim Naughtie how else churches might replace superannuated organists with no obvious successors to hand, Dr Fraser responded that as Christianity predated the invenation of the organ there were and still are other ways of making music in church – plainsong and taizé chanting, for example – without resorting to machines. ‘If you wouldn’t have it at your funeral, you shouldn’t have it in church on a Sunday morning.’
Robert Quinney added, ‘Anything that sounds so transparently fake needs to be treated with suspicion. It’s not necessarily a natural step for a pianist to become the sort of organist who could play in a local church, but local congregations have changed, and there is still a stock of young organists coming through.’
‘Live’ organists are familiar enough with the perils of lack of co-ordination with congregations – getting ‘out’. ‘A human being playing the organ can hear what other people are doing, so accompanying a congregation enables you to be sensitive to the speed etc,’ said Quinney.
Dr Fraser concluded that, having witnessed one organist eating sandwiches during his sermon and another slyly improvising a processional on the theme tune of Blackadder for a visit by a former Bishop of Bath and Wells, he would miss their ‘fantastic’ sense of humour if replaced by machines, and stressed the importance of organists’ contribution to the liturgy.
Six of the best
28 January 2013
Suzy Digby: First of six guest presenters for Radio 3’s The Choir
Conductor Suzi Digby (3 Feb) draws on her unrivalled experience of working with youth ensembles for an exploration of choral music, focusing on young choral talent. On 10 Feb, composer Paul Mealor, who shot to international fame with works including Wherever you Are (the Military Wives Choir) and Ubi Caritas et Amor (premièred at the 2012 Royal Wedding) will discuss writing for special events.
Ken Burton, founder/conductor of Tessera, The London Adventist Chorale and the Croydon Seventh-day Adventist Gospel Choir, will explore the ways in which choral music genres have integrated with gospel styles and looks at spiritual choral music by choirs not from a traditional gospel background (17 Feb).
Harry Christophers, conductor of The Sixteen will discusses sacred choral music, with specific reference to Victoria, Poulenc and James MacMillan (24 Feb). On 3 March, regular Radio 3 presenter Sara Mohr-Pietsch will lead a special live programme of Baroque music, as part of BBC Radio 3’s month-long Baroque Spring season, and vocal coach and animateur Mary King continues the celebrity series with an exploration of the links between folk and choral music, introducing works by Janáček and Bartok, alongside arrangements of British folk tunes. And on 17 March, the US composer-conductor Eric Whitacre will talk about what inspires him as a composer and a performer, and introduce a concert by the Eric Whitacre Singers to be recorded at LSO St Luke's, London, on 12 March.
The six special presenters replace Aled Jones as he leaves BBC Radio 3 after seven years as presenter of The Choir. Jones said, 'I feel honoured to have been able to enjoy seven years at the helm of The Choir, a very special show which truly celebrates choral music of every kind. I’d like to thank my colleagues at BBC Radio 3 and all those who helped make this show the success it is today.' Radio 3 says that details of future programmes will be announced shortly.
Exeter Cathedral says au revoir to historic pipe organ
21 January 2013
Restoration: Organ of Exeter CathedralGraeme Kay
Harrison & Harrison of Durham have begun work to restore
the 17th-century organ of Exeter Cathedral.
During the period of the Commonwealth (1646-1660), church music was suppressed and many church organs, including the previous instrument in Exeter Cathedral, were vandalized or destroyed. Devon organ builder John Loosemore, whose brothers were appointed to organist posts at King’s College and Trinity College, Cambridge – was put in charge of the organ after the Restoration. He was tasked first of all with repairing the old one – the earliest mention of an organ in Exeter is in the Fabric Roll of 1286 when a payment was made for casing the organ; in 1513 £165. 5s. 7½d was spent on a new organ to be placed on the screen. Loosemore went on to complete the building of a new organ in 1665; it underwent several changes during the next two centuries, but the magnificent case has survived to this day, having been enlarged at the time of a radical rebuild by Henry Willis in 1891.
Harrisons rebuilt the organ and modernised the action in 1931. The organ was renovated in 1965, with some tonal changes, including the addition of a Trompette in the Minstrels' Gallery. The organ was cleaned in 1985 and in 2001, essential work was undertaken on the organ, which consisted of console renovation and localised repairs, together with renewal of the coupler and piston systems, and the addition of four stops; in 2003, a new section of the organ was installed in the Minstrels' Gallery.
The Cathedral's director of music, Andrew Millington, said the restoration was overdue, as all organs needed a complete clean and overhaul every 25 years: 'This intricate and time-consuming operation involves the dismantling of the instrument, including well over 4000 pipes which have to be individually cleaned and repaired where necessary.
'The Exeter organ has evolved over the centuries, and the original case now houses about four times the number of pipes than it did in the 17th century. The interior of the organ is extremely cramped, and some sections are virtually inaccessible for maintenance. The inside layout of the organ is to be completely re-designed with new soundboards and a better projection of sound into the building. Certain intricate moving parts such as delicate leatherwork will be replaced, and wind leaks rectified. The aim is to restore this historic and renowned instrument to perfect working order for future generations.'
While the pipe organ is out of action, there will be replacement digital instruments for the quire and nave; the historic organ case will remain in the Cathedral throughout the restoration project.
Work on the organ has been funded thanks to generous donors of the Cathedral's Third Millennium Campaign, money raised from last year's Majesty Flower Festival and the Grand Nave dinner and from the Friends. A large grant has been awarded by Viridor Credits Environmental Company and supporters continue to come forward to 'sponsor a pipe'through the 'Leave a note' appeal to raise money for the project. Fundraising to complete the £1m project through to completion will carry on throughout this year and next year.
The pipework will return to the Cathedral for voicing in 2014. Canon Carl Turner, who is managing the restoration project, said: 'The iconic nature of the Exeter Cathedral organ means that we are entrusted with an historical instrument of international significance. But it is far from being a museum piece, it is a working instrument, used day in and day out in the way it was intended to by its creator, John Loosemore, in 1665, and we need to ensure it stays that way.'
The organ has been documented and demonstrated in its current condition in a recent combined DVD and CD publication – The Grand Organ of Exeter Cathedral – by Priory Records.
UK's love-affair with choral music
15 January 2013
Most performed in 2011-12: Handel's Messiah
Choral works and choral composers have once again performed
strongly in annual statistics for the UK published by classical concert finder
Handel's Messiah came top of the list of ten most-performed concert works in 2011-12; his Zadok the Priest came in at No.5, Parry's I was glad at 7, Brahms's A German Requiem at 8 and Mozart's Requiem at 10.
Overall, Beethoven was once again the most widely performed composer, with Mozart in second place, followed by Bach and then Brahms; Debussy rose to 9th in his 150th anniversary year, an increase of almost 50% from 2011.
The list is dominated not only by male composers, but by dead ones: among the living, the highest-placed were the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (54), followed by Eric Whitacre (78) and John Adams (89); there were no female composers in the top 100.
Bachtrack.com, launched in December 2007 by Alison and David Karlin, is the largest classical concert finder online and listed a total of 17,048 concert and opera events for 2012. Bachtrack told C&O: 'The usual caveats for statisticians apply: clearly, our database only includes a proportion of the concerts performed across the globe. It’s a large sample, although not a random one - it’s skewed towards the events put on by the largest organisations and those who have chosen, for whatever the reason, to work with us. It’s hard to say how those biases might play out: they make these stats fairly useless for serious research, but they don’t stop them being fun to read (we think).'
Jonathan Harvey, composer, 3 May 1939 - 4 December 2012
5 December 2012
Jonathan Harvey, who has died aged 73© Maurice Foxall
Jonathan Harvey, one of the foremost British composers of his generation, has died aged 73.
He had been suffering from motor neurone disease.
His music was intertwined with his Buddhist religion, but spirituality of all kinds had a great influence on his work. He decided to become a composer at the age of 11, during an organ voluntary while he was a member of the choir at St Michael’s College, Tenbury.
Harvey studied music at St John’s College, Cambridge, obtaining his doctorate in 1972, and was a longstanding academic at the University of Sussex, where he held various posts from 1977 to 1993 and was an honorary professor. He taught at Stanford University from 1995 to 2000.
He was invited by Pierre Boulez to work at IRCAM (the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique) in the 1980s and he wrote several pieces while working under its auspices, including Wagner Dream, his third opera, which was premiered by Netherlands Opera in 2007 and given its UK premiere in a semi-staged performance in January 2012. It will be given its fully staged UK premiere by Welsh National Opera in June 2013.
In October 2012 he was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the Incorporated Society of Musicians and his Messages for choir and orchestra was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society’s award for large-scale composition in May 2012.
A full obituary will follow in Classical Music's 15 December issue.
Jonathan Harvey 3 May 1939 - 4 December 2012