Marie-Claire Alain (10 August 1926–26 February 2013)
27 February 2013
The entire organ world is united in mourning the death of
the renowned French organist and teacher, Marie-Claire Alain, at the age of 86.
She was the last surviving child of organist and composer Albert Alain (1880-1971) - her two brothers, Jehan (born in 1911 and tragically killed on active service in 1940), and Olivier (1919-1994), joined her in pursuing careers in music: she studied organ with Marcel Dupré at the Paris Conservatoire, taking four prizes, and harmony with Maurice Duruflé.
Alain became world famous as a result of recording the complete organ works of J S Bach - she did so three times - and throughout her career was a champion, and acutely sensitive performer of, her brother Jehan's music. In a published interview which revealed the development of her artistic thinking and educative approach, she explained why she kept returning to Bach: 'It's because of the instruments, the instruments above everything else, and the fine state to which they have been restored - and the fact that they are now accessible. These recordings use instruments from Bach's time, and we know that Bach even played some of them - it's an extraordinary feeling, to put your hands on the keyboard, knowing that he was there 250 years before you!
'And I studied these instruments very thoroughly before choosing the ones I wanted to record on. Some of the organs I visited were good but still not quite what I wanted, and with others it was a coup de foudre. My style, too, is much purer; and these organs have to be treated with much respect: you can't force them to play too fast.
'We know much more now about performance practice in Bach's day and of other composers of his time: different position of the hands on the keyboard, different fingering, accentuation... Our entire approach has to be rethought in terms of what we have since discovered. I have discussed it with colleagues, obviously, I have listened to harpsichordist friends, violinists, singers. We all share our research. We now know that the way this music was played at the beginning of the century was according to the standards of the Romantic period. We couldn't go on like that; we had to rediscover the criteria of Bach's day. Well, now we have found them.'
Marie-Claire Alain's career was crowned only recently with her promotion to the rank of Grand Officier in the order of the Légion d’Honneur. She received her decoration from Admiral Lacoste, representing the President of the French Republic, on 23 November 2012.
A full obituary will appear in the May/June issue of Choir & Organ.
Westminster Abbey appoints new Sub-Organist
25 February 2013
Daniel Cook, new Sub-Organist at Westminster Abbey
Daniel Cook has been appointed Sub-Organist of Westminster Abbey, to succeed Robert Quinney, who takes up the position of Director of Music at Peterborough Cathedral after Easter.
Mr Cook was Assistant Organist and Organ Scholar at the Abbey between 2002 and 2005, before moving to Salisbury Cathedral as Assistant Director of Music, and then to St Davids Cathedral in 2011 as Organist and Master of the Choristers, where he has also been artistic director of the St Davids Cathedral Festival.
Swedish choral director Eric Ericson dies aged 94
21 February 2013
Eric Ericson 1918-2013
The renowned Swedish choral director and teacher Eric Ericson has died at the age of 94. Originally trained as a church musician at the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm, Ericson went on to further study at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis and in Germany, the UK and the USA. Founder, in 1945, of the Eric Ericson Chamber Choir, he was principal conductor of the Orphei Drängar choir at Uppsala University from 1951 until 1991, and choirmaster until 1982 of the Swedish Radio Choir which he also founded in 1951. Among his awards was the Nordic Council Music Prize (1995) and Sweden’s Polar Music prize (1997). The number of works by Swedish composers premiered by Ericson and introduced to an international audience was huge, as was his collaboration with composers such as Penderecki and Henze; Ligeti’s Drei Chorphantasien was dedicated to Ericson and his choir. Ericson was a prolific recording artist.
'It was not he who created choir singing but he refined it. He has been an era in himself,' said friend and colleague Gustav Sjökvist, who took over the Radio Choir from Ericson, and now runs his own chamber choir. Highlighting how difficult it was to try to introduce new ideas, because Ericson himself had most often managed it before him, Mr Sjökvist added, 'He was constantly pushing the boundaries, he was a very inquisitive person. He was also a great humanist, which you become when you are meeting and working with people all the time as he did.'
In a published interview, Ericson explained how his career had started: ‘I probably got this fascination for singing in parts, polyphonic composition, more or less with my mother's milk. As is the case with many other choristers in Sweden, I grew up within the Free church. Especially when you are the son of a pastor, ceremonial music becomes a natural part of the family's everyday life. On top of that I happened to have a music teacher at high school in Visby, who had a great dedication to choral singing. His name was Siedberg, and he worked within the Swedish Choir League. He was very talented, and had studied in Berlin as well as in Salzburg. Thanks to him I was propelled into the boys' choir at the cathedral. Already as a boy I found string music a little primitive, it was more fun to sing in parts - allegedly I led a choir of juniors at twelve ...’
Sally Groves receives Leslie Boosey Award
18 February 2013
Sally Groves, champion of contemporary music
The prestigious Leslie Boosey Award has been awarded to Sally Groves, London Head of Contemporary Music for Schott Music International, for her outstanding contribution to the furthering of contemporary music in Britain.
Gove U-turn on EBacc
7 February 2013
Education Secretary Michael Gove has abandoned his plans to replace GCSEs with a new English Baccalaureate in 2015.
This major U-turn is a result of opposition to his plans by MPs across the political spectrum, including deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, as well the exams regulator Ofqual. Apart from running the risk of falling short on EU regulations, the EBacc proposals drew strong criticism for encompassing English, maths, science, languages and history or geography while completely ignoring all the arts and other subjects, which would have been perceived as ‘second-class’.
Mr Gove nevertheless intends to restructure GCSEs, to reduce the amount of course-work that contribute to the overall grades.