London gains another US organ
12 December 2011
The organ of St Bartholomew-the-Great Priory
St.Bartholomew-the-Great Priory in London’s West Smithfield – built in 1123 AD and the oldest parish church in the City – is to announce a multi-million pound fundraising initiative which will among other projects bring a second American-built organ to the capital. The Schoenstein Organ Company of Benicia, CA has been selected to provide an organ to replace the current instrument which was taken out of commission in 2010, due to its increasingly unreliability.
In 1886 the organ from St. Stephen Walbrook was transferred to St.Bartholomew and installed by William Hill. Further modifications were made in 1931 by Henry Speechly & Son, in 1957 by N.P. Mander and in 1982-83 by Peter Wells. Director of music Nigel Short told C&O: ‘We were advised that there was nothing in the pipework of the old organ worth saving: we’ve looked high and low and have homed in on US builders – with the American market fairly buoyant in recent years a huge amount has been spent on development, which we’re keen to capitalise on.’
Churchwarden and deputising organist Nicholas Riddle takes up the story:‘The idea was to do something more interesting and unusual than just putting in another English/Orgelbewegung hybrid organ, of which there are endless examples. Because I work extensively in the US, I have met the American symphonic tradition of organ and had much experience of it. The idea of looking at this option was therefore discussed in our organ committee. We discovered that there are really no full-scale examples of such an organ anywhere in Europe – at least, not that we could find. So, we decided it would definitely mean doing something less conventional, and something that really would add to the diversity of instruments available to organists in the UK if there were to be an outstanding example of such an instrument in London, to complement the quite different organ planned for St George’s, Hanover Square.
‘Schoenstein derive their inspiration very much from the English organ building tradition, but have taken it considerably further, both in terms of integrating additional tonal colour, and also in straightforward organ technology. They are, perhaps, most famous for their technique of double enclosure in Swell boxes, where a smaller swell box under independent control, containing usually the loudest and the softest ranks, is contained within a normal swell box. The result is that you can exert a very great deal of control over the sound of the division and play off the expression of the different parts against each other. This gives tremendous expressive possibilities, although you end up with a lot of swell pedals!’
The 1893 casework of Sir Aston Webb will be retained. ‘The current grey pipework will be replaced by reflective display pipes,’ Nigel Short added. ‘We will have a detached, moveable console on the floor of the church, and a positive organ will be added where the current console is situated on the organ screen.’ Jack Bethards, president and tonal director of Schoenstein & Co said, ‘We are honoured to have an opportunity to introduce our American Symphonic style to Great Britain in one of London’s most famous landmark churches. To have our instrument in the company of those by the distinguished English builders present and past will be a significant highlight in our firm’s 134 years of organ building.’ It is hoped that the new Schoenstein organ will be installed in 2014.
CHOIRBOOK UNDERSCORES NATIONWIDE JUBILEE CELEBRATION
27 October 2011
Peter Maxwell Davies© John Batten
The Choirbook – seven years in the making – will launch at a special service in Southwark Cathedral on 22 November. The venture was born out of an inspirational idea by former BBC Proms director Robert Ponsonby and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, the current Master of the Queen’s Music. Comprising 44 anthems, including 11 new commissions, the Choirbook is dedicated to the Queen. Eighty cathedral and choral foundation choirs will sing the anthems during the Jubilee Year in the context of services, many of them scheduled for broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and on local radio.
The Choirbook is to be published by Canterbury Press. The project’s chief executive Carol Butler said, ‘I’ve been living with this project since Ian Ritchie, who now chairs the advisory and editorial group, asked me to begin working on it part-time when he became director of the City of London Festival. And we’ve enjoyed fantastic support from everyone involved: “Max” leads our communications with the Royal household – there are many details still to be finalised for next year, including the date for the offi cial presentation of the Choirbook. The editorial group decided early on that the selection of music should aim at the highest possible quality, while remaining approachable by good parish choirs; drawing on the combined experience of Stephen Cleobury, Christopher Robinson, Lucy Winkett, Tim Hone, Andrew Kurowski and Ian, the advisory group has done a wonderful job in selecting the anthems – we’ve also enjoyed good collaboration with the publishers.’
The roster of composers featured in the Choirbook is a roll-call of the finest talents working today, from Richard Allain to John Woolrich. The eleven commissioned pieces will be premiered live on BBC Radio 3’s Choral Evensong; producer Stephen Shipley told C&O, ‘Radio 3 Editor Edward Blakeman and I have been involved in dovetailing our planning with the Choirbook Trust for some time – it’s been quite an operation but it’s fitting together well.’
Although a few dates remain to be finalised, Shipley explained that Radio 3 schedules will include premieres by Judith Bingham (Manchester, 8 Feb 2012), Diana Burrell (Westminster Cathedral), Alexander Goehr (King’s, Cambridge, 29 Feb), Francis Grier (Christ Church, Oxford, 7 Mar), David Bedford (Bristol, 21 Mar), Julian Philips (Truro, 9 May), Michael Finnissy (Wells, 23 May), David Sawer (York, 13 Jun), Nigel Osborne (St Mary’s, Edinburgh, 15 Aug), Roxanna Panufnik (Liverpool Metropolitan), and Maxwell Davies (Westminster Abbey, 5 Dec). ‘Where possible, the premieres link composers, writers and places,’ said Butler. ‘Some composers have chosen classic texts but the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has provided the words for Max’s anthem, “Advent Calendar”; and Liverpool poet Roger McGough has written “Joy at the Sound” for Roxanna Panufnik.’
Peter Toyne, chairman of the Choirbook Trust, said the publication had been made possible by generous support from the Foyle Foundation. ‘Following concerns that some choirs would struggle to find the funds required to purchase multiple copies, we initiated a Diamond Subscriber scheme which has resulted in £55,000 being raised so that 80 designated choirs will have a full set to use next year and for the future.’
The Trust hopes that publication of the Choirbook in the context of the Jubilee will raise interest among choral foundations in the Commonwealth.
HALIFAX ORGAN ACADEMY LAUNCHED
27 October 2011
Halifax Minster organ
Halifax Minster has started the north of England’s first organ academy to try to boost the declining number of organists playing in West Yorkshire’s churches. In some parishes, the organist shortage has meant resorting to ‘karaoke hymn singing’ using music played through an iPhone.
The Halifax Organ Academy aims to create a centre of excellence for the organ in the area by providing tuition and support for organists, as well as encouraging people – especially the young – to take up the organ. The Vicar of Halifax, the Reverend Canon Hilary Barber, said the academy would help make sure the organ survives. He told C&O, ‘In recent years there’s been a decline in the number of people taking up the organ. We still have lots of wonderful organs in many churches so there’s a real urgency, I think, for us to encourage particularly young people to learn keyboard skills and learn this king of instruments.’
Prof. David Baker, who is leading the project, added, ‘I estimate at least one in two churches may have an organ but they don't have an organist, which is why we set up the Halifax Academy.’
The Academy’s first event, led by Anne Marsden Thomas of the St Giles International Organ School, took place in September on the Minster’s 4-manual Harrison instrument and covered the practicalities of organ playing in church, with sessions on how to practise, the physical side of playing, and motivation.
LINCOLN CATHEDRAL APPOINTS FEMALE CHORAL SCHOLAR
30 September 2011
Alto Helen Vincent, 22, has been appointed to the choir of Lincoln Cathedral. Lincoln was one of the first cathedral foundations to introduce separate boys' and girls' choirs to sing the treble line, and has maintained these since 1995.
But Vincent's appointment represents the first time a female singer has been employed below the treble line - as part of the permanent choir singing the alto, tenor and bass lines when either the boys' or girls' choir is singing the service. Her appointment therefore means that an all-male choir will no longer be heard at Lincoln.
Director of music Aric Prentice is positive about the appointment: 'As an alto myself, I have sung in choirs where there's a mixture of men and women, and have always found it to give a greater flexibility of sound. The blends have provided an interesting sound that hasn't deviated far from what people's perception of what a cathedral choir sounds like.'
Peter Phillips, director of the Tallis Scholars, wrote in a recent Spectator article about the decision to appoint his wife, contralto Caroline Trevor, to the deputies list of the choir at St Paul's Cathedral. He described her voice as 'the perfect instrument for sacred singing'.
'For her, and for those who will surely come after her now the breach has been made, it is the realisation of a dream long deferred,' wrote Phillips.
SINGING THE LORD’S PRAISE
30 September 2011
Songs of Praise (SoP), BBC TV’s flagship religious music programme, has clocked up 50 years on air. The anniversary will be marked in October with three specially recorded programmes, culminating in a spectacular celebration from London’s Alexandra Palace, with 7,000 invited viewers and a choir of 200.
SoP was first broadcast on Sunday 1 October 1961. Fifty years on, the programme – the world’s longest-running religious TV series – continues to showcase congregational hymn singing and inspirational music. The first recording was made at the Tabernacle Welsh Baptists Church in Cardiff. The programme has since been filmed in places of worship all over the UK, as well as from locations including Moscow, Beijing, the Falkland Islands, South Africa and Australia. Series editor David Taviner told C&O, ‘It’s good to look back and celebrate this significant milestone; but we also want to look forward as Songs of Praise continues to change with the time and reflect a rich variety of musical expressions of worship and faith. I like to think that Songs of Praise is 50 years young.’