London's 18th-century organs
6 May 2010
The 1735 Bridge organ in Christ Church Spitalfields
An 18th-century London organs all-day bus tour is being organised by the Friends of Christ Church Spitalfields in Wednesday 9 June, led by Dr William McVicker, organ curator at Southbank Centre. Participants will visit three significant architectural venues and to explore the organs installed in them: the 1735 Bridge organ in the fine Hawksmoor church of Christ Church Spitalfields; the recently restored 1704 Renatus Harris in St Botolph Aldgate; and the newly restored 1760 George England instrument in Dulwich College Chapel.
The total cost is £75 per person (£65 for paid-up Supporters). Contact 020 7859 3035, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volcano cancels organ course
20 April 2010
The Cambridge Academy of Organ Studies has been compelled to postpone the courses due to be given by Lionel Rogg on 23 and 24 April. It is unknown whether Professor Rogg would be able to travel to Cambridge from Switzerland in time for the classes. The Academy hopes to reschedule the event later this year; an update will be given on the Academy's website: www.cambridgeorganacademy.org
Wells Cathedral Summer Organ Festival is announced
31 March 2010
The Wells Cathedral Summer Organ Festival (10 June – 9 September) this year hosts John Scott and Martin Baker to play the 1857 Willis organ.
Scott, Organist at St Thomas Church, New York, gives the Andrew Norman Memorial Recital, performing works by a varied list of composers from Mendelssohn and Bach to Belgian composer Joseph Jongen and American William Bolcom (1 July). Baker is currently Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral and details of his programme for his appearance (9 September) are as yet unavailable.
Jonathan Vaughn, the Cathedral's Assistant Organist, will open the festival with a programme of music 'from the last forty years' to include Howells, Guy Bovet and James MacMillan (10 June); and Matthew Owens, Wells's Organist, will play Bach, Pachelbel, Franck and Dupré (5 August).
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