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Choir & Organ is the leading independent magazine for all professionals and amateurs in the choral and organ worlds – whether you are an organist, choral director or singer, organ builder, keen listener, or work in publishing or the record industry, Choir & Organ is a must-read wherever you live and work.

Every two months our expert contributors bring you beautifully illustrated features on newly built and restored organs, insights into the lives and views of leading organists, choral directors and composers, profiles of pioneering and well-established choirs, and topical coverage of new research, festivals and exhibitions. In keeping with our commitment to music at the cutting edge, we commission a new work from a young composer in every issue, making the score freely available for download and performance.

Our international news and previews, with breaking stories, key awards and forthcoming premieres, combine with reviews of the latest CDs, DVDs and sheet music, and listings of recitals, festivals and courses, to keep you up to date with events and developments around the world.

The Neoclassical Organ and the Great Aristide Cavaillé-Coll Organ of Saint-Sulpice, Paris

Latest News


22 September 2011

RFH CEO Alan Bishop presents the vision of the completed organ
RFH CEO Alan Bishop presents the vision of the completed organMaggie Hamilton

London’s Southbank Centre (SBC) has launched a major campaign – Pull Out All The Stops – to raise funds for the completion of the restoration and installation of the organ in the Royal Festival Hall. With £950,000 already committed from the Heritage Lottery Fund, a further £1.35m is needed for the reinstatement of the remaining two-thirds of the instrument, which have been in store since the hall closed for refurbishment in July 2005.

Harrison & Harrison, who built the instrument in 1954 in collaboration with Ralph Downes, will start work the Grade I listed organ’s 5,000 pipes in February 2011, involving the repair and cleaning of 5,000 pipes, building a new wooden frame, renovating the bellows and wind system, and completely overhauling the electrics. Installation will be piecemeal during the summer recesses of 2012 and 2013, with a re-inauguration concert in 2014 as part of a festival to celebrate the instrument’s 60th anniversary.

Members of the public are invited to sponsor one or more pipes, ranging in price from £30–£10,000.

 Presenting the plans at the press launch on 20 September, CEO Alan Bishop laid out a stall of exciting new projects associated with the campaign. These will include monthly free concerts over a ten-year period; apprenticeships and organ scholarships; and commissions. A major programme of learning and participation, due to start early in 2012, will include a public call for memories or the organ; a schools project for children in Lambeth and Durham, documenting the restoration; an interactive exhibition; and an international symposium.

Wesley Kerr, chairman of the HLF committee that approved the grant, stressed the importance having organs in secular venues as well as in churches, being not only a solo instrument for works from the time of Purcell, Bach and Handel to today, but also being perfect for accompanying other instruments. Kerr, who had been a schoolfriend of Stephen Bicknell, described the RFH organ as ‘euphonious, melodious, thundering, imposing – but also incomplete’; earlier this year he and HLF colleagues had been ‘impressed’ by a tour of the instrument given by organ curator William McVicker.

SBC artistic director Jude Kelly announced ‘a new age for SBC of commissioning works for organ’, saying that they had already held conversations with leading composers. She then outlined a programme of detailed work based around the organ with a group of around 150 children in the London area, twinning with children in Durham (home of Harrison & Harrison), who will all become organ advocates: ‘The organ has to take on a secular role in the society we now live in; we have to put the organ back into people’s psyche.’

McVicker – praised by Kelly for being ‘stoic and emphatically dogged’ – explained that the third of the organ currently in place in the hall is about the size of a parish church organ, lacking stops at both ends of the dynamic spectrum: ‘It doesn’t have its softest stops. And when the organ is put into a very large orchestral ensemble it needs gravitas and weight at the bottom, and brilliance over the piccolos and flutes at the top end. The organ glues together the jigsaw of sound in works like Belshazzar’s Feast. This organ is special because during the difficult economic times of the 1920s and 30s organ builders needed to take short cuts. What Ralph Downes did was to reach for the sounds of musical instruments that had been lost, the timbres that belonged to the classical period. It’s the only organ in London on which you can play classical French repertoire with authenticity. When it was built, critics thought it sounded like broken glass. But when you play it, it’s like sitting in a Bentley Turbo R, with amazing power at your fingertips.’

Asked if the organ would go back exactly as it was, McVicker said the organ had originally been ‘beautifully thought out’. The extreme LH and RH sides of the instrument have been carefully redesigned for it to fit into the new chamber at the back of the stage. There will be a difference in how we hear the organ now, due to the hall’s improved acoustics following the refurbishment – ‘it’s fuller, brighter, richer’. 

Choir & Organ is a Southbank Centre media partner for the organ campaign. We will be supporting the appeal in a number of ways, including regular updates on progress in the magazine and through e-bulletins. Choir & Organ has already sponsored a pipe: c’’ on the Swell 4ft Clarion. C&O readers can sponsor a pipe for anything from £30 to £10,000 direct from the C&O website:

Choral legacy

25 August 2011

The Making Music Kirby Collection of printed music for choirs was launched at the Surrey Performing Arts Library in Dorking, Surrey, on 15 August. The Collection is to be developed over the next three years, thanks to a £136,000 legacy left by Making Music's first chairman, Alan Kirby. 

Kirby was a leading figure in choral singing in Surrey and was keen to ensure the continued success of choral singing in the county. The Making Music Board decided to use the legacy to purchase an extensive collection of contemporary and standard repertoire, which is being kept at the library for the use of choirs in Surrey and the rest of the UK. 

Making Music is the UK's top organisations for voluntary music, with over 3,000 voluntary groups in membership, including more than 1,600 choirs. 


25 August 2011

The first anniversary of the beatification of the Blessed John Henry Newman (1801-90) is marked on 17 September with the inauguration of a new Institute for Liturgical Music (ILM). The venture is the brainchild of the Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory in association with the Maryvale Institute under the joint patronage of Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham and Catholic composer James MacMillan.


The Institute will provide a foundation in music and doctrine to underpin the Sunday liturgy in parishes. Its programme will initially consist of weekend events designed to promote the music associated with the new translation of the Mass which will come into effect at Advent. Sessions will include practical instruction for laity and clergy on singing the Mass, including the J.H. Newman Pilgrim Mass, and the historical background to church music.


Music in the Roman Catholic Church came under scrutiny following a row which erupted in public over the provision of music for the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the UK last autumn: James MacMillan, commissioned at short notice to provide a Mass setting, was criticised by an ad hoc church committee for providing music it deemed too technically demanding – a charge which the composer vehemently rejected. The row prompted a timely public debate on the nature and quality of music in Catholic churches.


The ILM’s musical director, Fr Guy Nicholls, told C&O:  ‘When John Henry Newman became a Catholic in 1845, he founded the Oratory of St Philip as the perfect model for the fulfilment of his own hopes for creating a community of priests to work together in a variety of pastoral arenas: liturgy, education, welfare, study and writing. Not least of these was the provision of good music for the liturgy, which was no easy achievement in 19th-century England.’


The Institute’s teaching will re-emphasise the importance and relevance of Gregorian chant – a feature of the Second Vatican Council’s discourse on music, and which many believe fell out of use due to the advance of worship in the vernacular. It also chimes with the present Pope’s desire to see the liturgy renewed by a recovery of the sense of its intrinsic sacredness, to be achieved by, among other things, singing or chanting. The Institute will bring into use the Graduale Parvum – a new, fully road-tested setting of the entire corpus of Latin texts in the Graduale Romanum by the Hungarian liturgist and musicologist, Laszlo Dobszay. ‘The melodies, which are all from ancient sources, are simple to learn, and very effective in execution,’ adds Fr Nicholls.


Speaking exclusively to C&O, James MacMillan welcomed the initiative. ‘We’ve been waiting for something like this for a long time. What’s important is that the Institute will provide encouragement to the clergy and the laity to sing the Mass again, accessing what is known as the “Priceless Treasury” of music, described in Vatican II. Resources like the Graduale Parvum will break down what have been seen as the barriers between choral music and everything else. It’s about what congregations will try – music of utter simplicity which can be taught from the pulpit – and which will allow worshippers a liminal experience, “crossing the threshold” into the transcendent.’

Choral conducting open masterclass

25 August 2011

Paul Brough is giving an open choral conducting masterclass on 19 September at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Brough, an RAM alumnus and now a professor, will coach RAM students as they conduct the BBC Singers. 

The masterclass (10.30am–1pm and 2pm–3.45pm) will be followed by an informal concert at 4pm.

 Admission is free, and no tickets are required.

The BBC Singers are giving the Scottish premiere of James MacMillan's St John Passion on 29 September in City Halls, Glasgow, with Mark Stone taking the part of Christ.

Fiery start to inaugural Northern Ireland International Organ Competition

25 August 2011

Ben Comeau, from Truro Cathedral (second from right), winner of the senior category of the Northern Ireland International organ Competition, with judges (left to right)  Colm Carey, Thierry Mechler and David Hill

The senior section of the inaugural Northern Ireland International Organ Competition (NIIOC), held in Armagh on 22–23 August, was won by Ben Comeau (18) from Truro. Described by jury chairman Thierry Mechler as ‘a fantastic player and a real musician’, Comeau is a former chorister of Truro Cathedral and is about to take up an organ scholarship at Girton College, Cambridge. His NIIOC programme consisted of J.S. Bach’s Trio Sonata no.4 in E minor BWV 528, and part of his own transcription of Stravinsky’s The Firebird. The jury felt that his performance revealed ‘brilliance and profound musicianship’.

The NIIOC was launched this year in association with the Charles Wood Summer School. It is the only competition in the UK and Ireland to cater specifically for accomplished organists aged 21 and under. With a prize of £1,000 and recitals in Belfast, Dublin and Trinity College, Cambridge, the senior section for organists of post-Grade 8 standard attracted 15 entrants from cathedrals, schools and conservatoires around the UK and Ireland.  Second place went to Benjamin Bloor from St George’s Chapel, Windsor, and third place to Ghislaine Reece-Trapp of Guildford Cathedral. Richard Gowers from Eton College was highly commended for his performance of the Toccata by his grandfather, Patrick Gowers.


The intermediate competition for players at Grades 6-8 was won by Donal McCann (12), a chorister at St Peter’s R.C. Cathedral, Belfast, and the junior competition for Grades 4 & 5 by Killian Farrell, 17, from Dublin.

According to chair Richard Yarr, NIIOC came about as a response to demand from local organists who wanted to encourage, challenge and celebrate the talents of young performers in a competitive environment.  Thierry Mechler’s fellow judges were Belfast City Organist Colm Carey, and David Hill, chief conductor of the BBC Singers, who told C&O that NIIOC provided an excellent stepping-stone into the world of competitions for young performers who would get lost in a bigger event with a higher age limit.

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