26 May 2009
There are question marks over the future of the 1975 Kuhn organ that once sat in Alice Tully Hall, New York. The instrument was removed in 2006 when the hall, part of Lincoln Center, began refurbishments costing US$159 million. The hall reopened in February 2009 without the organ, which remains in store in Argyle, upstate New York. The date for the instrument’s reinstallation has changed several times. A draft contract drawn up between the hall and Kuhn Organ Builders in 2006 specified that the organ was to be returned in October 2008.
Because of construction delays the Center put off reinstallation until summer 2009. In April Lincoln Center told the New York Times that the return date was now mid-2010 because it was too soon ‘to take the hall offline’ and extra time was needed to allow construction dust to settle. However, it conceded that it still did not have the estimated $1 million in funds needed for the reinstallation, although the new date was only a year away.
Kuhn and Lincoln Center told C&O in May that they were in discussion, but refused to comment on the nature of their talks. The Center said it was ‘committed to reinstalling the organ at the appropriate time’ but did not give a date.
Paul Jacobs, chairman of the Juilliard School’s organ department, fears that the instrument is not a priority for the Center: ‘The delay seems to indicate a lack of a vision. This is particularly unfortunate in light of the fact that numerous other concert halls throughout the United States have added pipe organs in recent years. ‘The question of funding should have been considered years ago when every other detail concerning the hall was being addressed. Besides, the estimated cost of the organ’s reinstallation is a drop in the ocean compared with the total cost of the hall’s renovation.”
The organ was a gift from the late arts benefactor Alice Tully, whose foundation contributed $15 million to the hall’s refurbishment. Currently, no other major concert hall in New York has a pipe organ; the 1963 Aeolian-Skinner organ, built for what is now Avery Fisher Hall, was removed in the 1970s.
Gabriel Jackson to be the BBC Singers’ new Associate Composer
13 May 2009, London
The BBC Singers have announced that Gabriel Jackson will be their new Associate Composer from January 2010.
Jackson, who follows in the footsteps of Judith Bingham, will collaborate with the BBC Singers for three years. Michael Emery, the BBC Singers producer, welcomed the appointment: ‘I'm delighted that Gabriel is to be our next Associate Composer - we've known his music, in the Singers, for many years and much enjoyed performing it, especially the pieces written specifically for us. He's a composer with a huge sympathy for and expertise in vocal music, and I really look forward to seeing what choral wizardry he'll create for the BBC Singers over the next three years.’ Jackson responded, ‘I’m terribly excited about this. The BBC Singers are fantastic and the opportunity of working with a group of that calibre affords all sorts of new exciting avenues to explore.’ www.bbc.co.uk/singers
Gabriel Jackson talks to Choir & Organ in the September/October issue – don’t miss it!
The saga continues
24 March 2009
Choir & Organ’s report on the continuing delays in restoring the Royal Festival Hall organ (News & Previews, March/April issue) was followed up by both the national and the specialist press, writes Peter Gillman.
The Guardian’s arts diary splashed with a report that borrowed heavily from ours but which also contained a new statement from Southbank Centre.
Alan Bishop, who became SBC’s CEO in February, was reported as saying that ‘Confirming a timetable [for restoring the organ] is a top priority.’ C&O has now learnt that Bishop also said: ‘I am passionately committed to raising the funds to complete the refurbishment and reinstallation of the organ.’ Bishop’s words at least show greater enthusiasm for restoring the organ than the opaque statements the centre previously released. SBC also said that work to find sponsorship for the restoration continued ‘behind the scenes’. Some £1.5m–£2.3m is required to fund the outstanding work.
Even so, SBC is already certain to miss what was in effect a deadline for completing the work. English Heritage told C&O last month that there was generally a five-year time limit for completing the restoration of listed buildings such as the RFH. As restoration work at the RFH began in the summer of 2005, the notional deadline expires in mid-2010. Mark Venning of Harrison & Harrison has estimated that the remaining restoration requires two years from the moment work begins, which could delay completion to at least 2011. SBC told C&O it was ‘not aware’ of a requirement to complete the work within five years. It added that it would ‘in any event work closely with EH on the refurbishment of the organ’. And it said it would be ‘discussing a realistic completion date with Harrison & Harrison as soon as possible’. It is worth noting that the Grade I listing of the RFH specifically cites the ‘organ built in 1950–53 by Harrison & Harrison of Durham to specification by Ralph Downes and installed behind a screen of pipes designed by Leslie Martin’ – thus confirming, contrary to some suggestions, that the organ is an integral part of the full restoration programme.
It has emerged that the failure to restore the full organ for the RFH reopening in 2008 runs counter to English Heritage’s expectations in another respect. In 2004 an EH spokesperson told C&O: ‘The organ refurbishment is programmed to be completed as part of the overall refurbishment of the auditorium and it will be back there in time for the reopening of the auditorium.’ Asked what would happen if the organ was not ready in time, the spokesperson added: ‘Someone would probably get the sack.’ SBC responded: ‘The full refurbishment of the organ was deferred towards the end of 2004 (November) and subsequently made public.’
24 March 2009
Choral music in Sweden faces uncertainty as the future of Sweden’s state-funded national coordinating body for musical tours and projects is under threat.
In January Concerts Sweden’s 2009 budget was cut by SEK10 million (£850,000) to SEK62 million, and a third of its 66 staff was made redundant. It was the only arts group to have funding cut by Sweden’s Ministry of Culture. Furthermore, a government review in February suggested that the organisation be dissolved; under the recommendations many smaller cultural groups would form three large national state authorities and one of them would take over parts of Concerts Sweden’s remit, while other parts would be taken over by extant regional authorities. A bill on cultural policy, possibly incorporating these changes, will be presented to the Swedish parliament in the autumn.
Concerts Sweden has now had to cancel its annual ‘Choir of the Year’ competition and call off a tour of Sweden by a choir from Indonesia.
The organisation, which was founded in 1964, arranges tours by foreign artists in Sweden and promotes Swedish music abroad. It has a full-time manager who specifically deals with choir and vocal ensembles, Bo Nilsson, and it is also responsible for the Eric Ericson International Choral Centre Foundation, Swedish Choral Music Board, an annual conference for choral issues (Körforum), the triennial Eric Ericson Award, and the annual Eric Ericson Day concert and choir awards. Concerts Sweden also organises choral seminars and masterclasses, choral tours in Sweden and abroad, and cooperates with international organisations and events, including Aswatuna, the first-ever conference and festival for Arab choirs and choral directors, which took place in Jordan in 2008.
A spokesperson for the Swedish Ministry of Culture, Cecilia Jehler, said: ‘The Swedish music scene has gone through considerable changes since Concerts Sweden was founded. For instance, the regional structure has grown stronger. [So] Concerts Sweden should go through changes and be run differently as well.’
Nilsson said the proposals would have very negative consequences on Swedish musical life. ‘We are not against making changes to the organisation – we have just reorganised after the funding cuts. But there are great differences in conditions in the regions, in terms of population and wealth, and some are very weak. There is also a need for a national platform for music, to bring music to the entire country and internationally.’ Nilsson has set up an online petition against the plans at www.rikskonserter.se.
Choral music is an important part of Swedish life; half a million Swedes, or one in sixteen, belong to a choir.
Hole in the wall
13 February 2009
NO NEWS IS BAD NEWS. The long awaited full restoration of London’s Royal Festival Hall organ is no nearer completion than when the hall was re-opened to the public in June 2007, writes Peter Gillman. Southbank Centre (SBC) told Choir & Organ it was ‘in discussion with potential donors’ to raise the costs of the outstanding restoration work, estimated at between £1.5m and £2.3m’. But the centre added: ‘We do not yet have a funding commitment’ and was unable to say when the work would be started.
Mark Venning, managing director of Harrison & Harrison, considers the lack of progress ‘disappointing and frustrating for all concerned’. The firm was awarded the contract in 2004 and restored one third of the organ in time for the re-opening. The work was complicated by the need to reduce the size of the organ chamber by one metre in order to fit the new Festival Hall stage – ‘a very interesting challenge,’ said Venning.
Although early discussions over the contract concerned the entire organ, the final version specified that only one third of the work should be undertaken. SBC said this was because the full restoration costs had not been included in the budget for the Festival Hall’s refurbishment, initially set at £91m. English Heritage has confirmed that the organ is part of the building’s Grade I listing; Simon Hickman, historic buildings and area advisor, told C&O that ‘the organ contributes to the special interest of the Festival Hall.’
Harrisons began the restoration work in 2005 and completed it in time for the re-opening. But only 38 out of the specified 103 stops were in use, with just two of the pedal stops. The result, said Venning, is that audiences ‘don’t get anything like a proper picture of what an organ can do.’ The partial organ, as it is termed, has been played during some orchestral pieces but there have been no solo recitals on it since the closure.
At the time of the re-opening in June 2007, an SBC press release said that ‘although part of the organ’ was back in place, the remaining installation was ‘being phased over the next four years’ – thus extending the completion date to 2011.
Last summer, in response to enquiries from C&O, the centre, citing ‘recent uncertainty surrounding our funding position’, said it had been ‘unfortunately unable to instruct’ Harrison & Harrison to restart the restoration work. It added that it was ‘focusing on the organ as one of our fundraising priorities’ and that it hoped to set ‘a new timetable as soon as possible’. In January this year, following further enquiries from C&O, SBC issued a short statement couched in almost identical terms:
‘Southbank Centre is committed to the completion of the organ. It is one of our fundraising priorities and we are currently in discussion with potential funders. Following discussions with the new Chief Executive, we hope to confirm a new timetable for the reinstallation of the instrument as soon as possible.’
Asked for clarification, SBC said that Alan Bishop, due to become chief executive on 5 February, was ‘aware of the issue’ which ‘will be addressed as an organisational priority when he takes up his post, within the context of other organisational priorities’. SBC also revealed that it was ‘currently in discussion with a major funder’ about sponsoring the outstanding work. It added: ‘We’re happy to take money from anyone who will support us’, and donors would receive ‘appropriate recognition’. Asked about a timetable, the centre repeated the mantra: ‘We hope to restore the organ as soon as possible,’ adding: ‘This won’t be before 2011 as previously stated.’
Venning estimated that it would take Harrison & Harrison two years to complete the restoration work once it received the go-ahead. He said: ‘It is very disappointing that there is no further news on when we might be able to restart work on the organ. The situation is very frustrating for all concerned.’ He added: ‘It is very sad that only part of the organ in the hall is playable – it is visually strange and musically limited. There is a yawning gap where the rest of the organ is supposed to be and it looks most peculiar.’
The organ world is likely to share Mr Venning’s disappointment. The Festival Hall organ, once seen as revolutionary and to some extent controversial, is now viewed as an iconic instrument.
The outstanding two thirds of the organ are currently in store in a warehouse in Durham. ‘It is in one hundred thousand pieces,’ said Venning. He added the reassurance that ‘it has been stored in a very tidy manner, waiting for the resurrection.’