25th June 2023

The organ of New College, Oxford

Since our return from an idyllic few days in Paris [see 29th May post] it’s been a singularly busy and productive four weeks.  I have given two organ recitals, spent a thrilling weekend (with Anne and Morgan) in Manchester to attend Sir Mark Elder’s inspiring final Hallé performances of The Apostles and The Kingdom, visited Ramsgate (with Anne) to see the wonderful restoration of Pugin’s buildings connected with St Augustine’s church, have travelled around the country surveying organs ‘in need’ in Manchester, Birtles, Dartmouth, Broseley and Alberbury and have spent many hours on on-going projects and on Organ Club admin.  Last week was spent mainly in beginning to write up detailed reports on the organs I’d surveyed, but yesterday there came a welcome break from my desk when Anne and I drove to New College Oxford (can it really be 52 years since I started there as a [very green] organ scholar?) for a very special event – a discussion between Sir James MacMillan, Robert Quinney and the Revd Dr Erica Longfellow (Dean of Divinity) about the major anthem to a text by John Donne, commissioned from Sir James by New College and later given its premiere at Evensong.

Revd Dr Erica Longfellow, Sir James MacMillan and Robert Quinney in New College Chapel, 24th June 2023

The piece (When one man dies) is profound and worthy of taking up by choirs who can do it justice; the discussion (mainly about John Donne’s writings, in particular this text) was thought-provoking and educative, the Evensong – which, whilst centred on the new anthem, also offered contemporary works by Caitlin Harrison, Matthew Martin and Deborah Pritchard – showed New College Choir in top form.  Their new CD – entirely of New College commissions, from Harris’s “Faire is the Heaven” right up to the present day – was released after Evensong; a glass or two of bubbly was imbibed, and the assembled company dispersed after enjoying a golden day.