New hope for Festival Hall organ
2 February 2010
SBC chief executive Alan Bishop (left) and organ curator William McVicker are committed to the complete reinstallation of the RFH organMaggie Hamilton
After years of frustration in the organ world, and bitter criticism of London’s Southbank Centre, the fortunes of the Royal Festival Hall organ appear set to turn around, writes Graeme Kay. In an exclusive interview with C&O on 12 January, SBC chief executive Alan Bishop announced that the Centre had successfully completed Stage One of a £950,000 application to the Heritage Lottery Fund, and had been given the green light to proceed to Stage Two. This second stage, for which the deadline is March 2010, involves further detailed bids being subject once again to a competitive process; a decision from HLF is expected by June 2010. Mr Bishop promised that a wider fundraising campaign would then be launched in September 2010; pledging his support for the project, he said, ‘I’m making an absolute personal commitment to the full reinstallation of the organ, and the SBC is also committed to it.’ Completion of the project is currently estimated at £2m. The organ is not expected to be fully reinstated before 2013.
SBC director of development Rebecca Preston told C&O that a full, ongoing education programme forms part of the HLF bid. She confirmed that the Centre had no other major fundraising priorities and that it was canvassing the widest constituency of support for the project, including individual members of the public, and private donors of high net worth; the Centre is also open to ‘naming’ of the organ.
The failure to plan the complete reinstatement of the RFH organ as part of a £111m refurbishment programme – which closed the hall in 2005 for 24 months – remains a dark chapter in the history of the South Bank arts complex. Only one-third of the Harrison & Harrison instrument – a ground-breaking and widely influential 1954 design by Ralph Downes – was reinstalled for the 2007 reopening, and audiences have since been greeted by a yawning void behind the RFH stage. The lack of a full organ at the RFH has imposed severe limitations on concert planning and put in abeyance – indefinitely – the programme of international recitals in the Festival Hall, which under organ curator William McVicker had regained its former reputation after years of neglect. SBC’s handling of the organ affair has provoked intense criticism from organists, professional bodies and the public.
Mr Bishop has been in post since February 2009. ‘When I got to know more about the circumstances of the refurbishment of the RFH I became highly sympathetic and understanding as to how and why the organ had not been completed, with the pressures on both sides, and money,’ he told C&O. ‘I thought it seemed a great shame we hadn’t done the last bit. And I said right away that we were determined that we would reinstall the organ.’
The remainder of the organ is currently stored in the Durham works of Harrison & Harrison. According to Dr McVicker, restoration of the remaining two-thirds of the organ will take up to 24 months; neither SBC nor Harrison’s were able to offer more than speculation as to whether the work would be undertaken during RFH downtime or by means of a further period of closure. Mr Bishop said, ‘I have met Harrison’s and wanted them to be sure about our commitment and our intent. They have explained to us their schedules and what their opportunities are to do the work.’ Speaking to C&O, Harrisons’ managing director David Hirst welcomed SBC’s renewed commitment to the project but would not be drawn on timetables: ‘There is a lot of complexity about the methodology and nothing is set in stone. But we are the largest builder in the country and our business won’t be blocked by a major project of this kind.’
Dr McVicker is buoyant about the prospects for the refurbished organ, which notoriously suffered from the dry acoustics of the RFH – international concert organist Simon Preston memorably remarked that after playing a chord on the 103-stop organ, ‘to hear the sound flop on the floor behind you is alarming’. But changes to the organ chamber have removed structures and materials which formerly absorbed sound like a sponge. ‘The bit of the organ that’s already installed sounds fabulous,’ said Dr McVicker. ‘If you listen to the acoustic response in the building, the low frequency range and the top end is vastly improved. Now, if you go up to the balcony, the 32ft really floods the hall, so even in Elgarian repertoire such as the Cockaigne Overture where you’re required to have foundation tone, the organ has a real presence – that’s a very marked change.
‘I think the organ was controversial in 1954, but it’s grown old gracefully and when it comes together it will be fantastic. The one stop the organ never had was an acoustic, and now it’s got one.’
52nd Grammy Award winners
19 January 2010
The 52nd Grammy Awards winners include:
Best Choral PerformanceMahler: Symphony no.8; Adagio From Symphony No. 10/ San Francisco SO, Chorus, and Girls Chorus; Pacific Boychoir, Tilson Thomas/SFS Media
Best Classical Album
Mahler: Symphony no.8/ San Francisco SO, Ch. & Girls Ch., Pacific Boychoir, Tilson Thomas/SFS Media]
Best Small Ensemble
Lang: The Little Match Girl Passion/Ars Nova Copenhagen, Theatre Of Voices, Hillier/Harmonia mundi
British Composer Awards
3 December 2009
Gabriel Jackson has won the choral prize at the British Composers Awards 2009Maggie Hamilton
Gabriel Jackson's The Spacious Firmament has won the accolade of best choral work at the 2009 British Composer Awards. Jackson's work, which sets Joseph Addison's ode for mixed choir, brass and organ, was commissioned by the John Armitage Memorial and premiered by the BBC Singers and Onyx Brass in 2008. The composer told Choir & Organ: ' I was absolutely delighted to win for myself, but also for the John Armitage Memorial who commissioned the piece, whose amazing work in commissioning new music, in giving opportunities to young composers, and in putting on numerous performances around the country is deserving of wider recognition and our great gratitude.'
Sir John Tavener's Christmas Sequence Ex Maria Virgine, which has been recorded on Naxos by the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, won the liturgical award.
The awards were announced at the annual BACSA ceremony on 1 December at the Law Society, London. The full list of results can be found at www.britishcomposerawards.com/
4 November 2009
A concert to raise funds for Pancreatic Cancer UK will be held in London’s Cadogan Hall on 24 November. ‘Out of the shadows’ has been organised by James Brown, managing director of artist managers Hazard Chase Ltd, in memory of his brother Robert, who died of the disease at the age of 54 in November 2008, 14 months after Luciano Pavarotti died of the same cause.
Stephen Layton will conduct the English Chamber Orchestra and The Holst Singers in music by Fauré, Vaughan Williams and Holst.
A webpage, linked to the concert, has been set up for
anyone wishing to donate to Pancreatic Cancer UK in memory of Robert Brown: www.justgiving.com/robertbrownconcert
Out of the shadows
English Chamber Orchestra, The Holst Singers / Stephen Layton (dir)
Vaughan Williams: Serenade to Music
Walton: Henry V Suite (Passacaglia: The Death of Falstaff and ‘Touch her soft lips and part’)
Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending
Holst: Brook Green Suite
24 November at 8pm, Cadogan Hall, London
In aid of Pancreatic Cancer UK
Tickets: £30, £26, £22, £18 available from the Cadogan Hall box office: 020 7730 4500 or online: www.cadoganhall.com
Spitalfields organ contract signed
2 November 2009
William Drake has signed an agreement with Christ Church Spitalfields, London, to restore its 1735 Richard Bridge organ.
This signing marks a significant stage in rehabilitation of the church, which fell into disrepair during the 20th century but which has been undergoing a major restoration programme since the 1960s and which finally reopened in 2004. The organ, well known for its sound and its magnificent case, is the only large English organ to survive from the age of Handel, but it has not been heard for over half a century: during the building works it was dismantled and kept in store.
Consultant Dr William McVicker commented, 'The organ’s value is immense. It is a remarkable survival of the period and represents a jewel in the crown of Hawksmoor’s masterpiece of Christ Church. But it also represents a missing piece in the jigsaw of 18th-century musical culture.'
William Drake already has an impressive portfolio of historic organ restorations, including Lulworth Castle Chapel, Dorset (1780-5) St Paul, Deptford (c.1745), St Anne, Limehouse (1851) and the Ball Room organ in Buckingham Palace (1818,1855).
The work is estimated to take four years and to cost over £1 million. Support has been pledged from around the world and the Friends of Christ Church Spitalfields, who are managing the project, are raising the remaining funds.
For more information and to support the project please contact +44 (0)20 7859 3035, email@example.com