Home again after a stimulating Diocesan Organ Advisers’ Conference based this year in Portsmouth. Each year we visit a different diocese, at the invitation of the Organ Adviser to the Diocesan Advisory Committee of that diocese, spending the better part of three days discussing current issues, funding, technical matters and interesting local organs.
This year, the full day (the second day) was rather more concentrated than usual on two organs: the 3-manual 1931 HNB rebuild, currently out of use in the church now called ‘King’s Church’ (was St Peter’s) and the large Rushworth & Dreaper extension organ of similar date (though modernised) in the Church of the Holy Spirit (both in Southsea).
We considered the strengths and weaknesses of both organs and whether the redundant organ in St Peter’s might be an improvement on the R&D in the Holy Spirit. The jury was still out at the end of the day! The two musical highlights were a splendid evening experiencing the recently restored Walker organ at St Mary’s church (Portsea), an event greatly enlivened by the words of Dr William McVicker and Andrew Caskie (managing director of Nicholsons) and by the playing of Tom Bell.
The Anglican cathedral’s historic Nicholson was put through its paces on the second evening by cathedral organist Dr David Price, along with its recent nave additions which include a solo fanfare trumpet – reputedly audible from the other side of the harbour. It was an instructive and sociable few days and we all look forward to the 2024 conference.
In recent week my travels as a recitalist and consultant have taken me to three churches with unusual and thought-provoking organ cases. Today is a good example, where the chunky 3-manual Harrison & Harrison at St Botolph’s church, Boston, Lincs (Boston ‘Stump’) speaks out from behind this curious façade. Amazing it gets out at all, but the audience at my lunchtime recital seemed to enjoy what they heard, so all was well.
Hidden in the countryside near Alderley Edge is the tiny – exquisite – church of St Catherine, at Birtles. Here, an eccentric nineteenth-century ‘squarson’ incumbent had three organ case made entirely of salvaged timbers and carvings. They are an extraordinary confection (especially close-up) and the central case has nothing in it – but a fire-place beneath it!
At the other end of the country, I found that St Saviour’s, Dartmouth has a unique organ case by Paul Micheau of Exeter, dating from c.1787 and set up then in the church’s spacious west gallery. Moved to its current unfortunate home on the north side of the chancel in 1888, much of the case has been hidden ever since behind the equally fine carved oak screenwork behind the choirstalls on that side. Oh that it could be seen once more in its full splendour!
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.
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.
Anne and I spent a delightful five days in Paris last week. Mainly art galleries, museums and walking, taking in a splendid concert in the new Philharmonie (what a hall!), visiting beautiful La Sainte-Chapelle for the first time (the medieval glass must be the finest anywhere), and enjoying both the warm sunny weather and the fine food and wine – of course. A real treat was the Musée de la Musique, whose collection of harpsichords must be by a mile the most impressive in the world. They also had a few small but interesting organs on display, so I am posting some photographs here, along with a photo of the spectacular Saint-Eustache organ, which we visited on our last morning.
Just back from three stimulating days in Northern Ireland, visiting a project in progress and revisiting two other projects which we hope will come to life. It was a delight to revisit the H&H / Wells Kennedy organ in the beautiful cathedral at Downpatrick. Long thought to have been a late organ by Samuel Green, it is now known to have been built a decade or so after his death.
In progress is a Henry Groves / Wells Kennedy rebuild of the fine 3-manual, 57-stop 1963 Walker in St Philip & St James, Holywood (Belfast); the organ’s innards are now almost entirely removed, most of them being shipped to the Henry Groves works near Nottingham, while the console has gone to Renatus in Bideford for a complete refurbishment.
The largest organ I’m involved with in the area is the famous 4-manual 72-stop Hill / Mander organ in the Ulster Hall, which is showing its age in every respect; writing a major report on that will be a few days’ work, even though it is an update of my 2009 report.
This fine view from the very back of the organ is possible only because Mander removed the Choir expression box shutters in 1976: just one of the issues up for discussion.
I’m delighted that Nicholson & Co Ltd have this week announced that they’ve won the contract to build a structurally new organ for Christ Church Cathedral, Christchurch, New Zealand.
I have been working with the Christ Church team since 2019 in developing a scheme for the resurrection of the distinguished Hill / HNB / South Island Organ Company organ, which was not only thoroughly shaken up in the devastating earthquakes a decade ago (which came close to destroying the cathedral) but since then has been home to flocks of pigeons, who have filled it with their mess, as can be imagined. The plan, now the building has been made safe to enter, is to remove the pipes (started this week), clean them then assess later in the year which ranks can be reused. Our assumption is that many ranks will need to be new, though the hope is that we can save quite a bit. The new organ will be divided either side of the chancel, mainly speaking west, which should get round the problem the old organ had of being ‘bottled up’ within its chamber.
A new Music Department will also be built. This is an exciting project on which I shall post again from time to time over the next four years as it gradually comes into being. Here is the official link to the Christ Church Cathedral concept design website – a very interesting and informative read: https://christchurchcathedral.org.nz/our-project/concept-design/.
In the photograph of the organ before the earthquakes can be seen large wooden pipes elevated in the north transept, painted white. These are actually the bottom twelve pipes of the 32ft Double Open Wood stop, the tallest being in the row behind. They have been a considerable logistical challenge to lift down to the cathedral floor – accomplished earlier this year.
I’m home today from an African adventure. The Lawton / Walker 3-manual organ in Nairobi’s All Saints’ Cathedral (seat of Kenya’s Anglican Archbishop) was in England during 2022, being rebuilt by Michael Farley and his team at Budleigh Salterton, the 1955 Walker console being elegantly remade with stop-knobs and modern control systems by Renatus of Bideford.
Following its reinstallation in the cathedral during January this year, I flew out for a week to assist with the final tonal finishing, to test it thoroughly, to talk about it to the cathedral congregation, explain it to the cathedral’s several organists, record it, be filmed playing it, and give a masterclass on it. All at 30° centigrade!
It’s a really splendid instrument whose tone sounds truly cathedralesque in Temple Moore’s fine stone building, a building packed for numerous services each Sunday, all of them with the cathedral’s choirs, in style covering the whole gamut of liturgical approaches, including formal Choral Morning Prayer and Choral Evensong. Congregants last Sunday numbered just short of 10,000! The organ is to be Dedicated this coming Sunday (12th February) though, alas, the Farley team and I will only be able to watch it live-streamed rather than in person.
I’ve had a stimulating week, enhanced by the generous welcome we were offered by everyone connected with the cathedral. With three other possible organ projects around the cathedral and in another local church, it may not perhaps be the last visit for the Farley team and yours truly.
After the inauguration of the superb new Eule organ at Magdalen College Oxford on 21st January (a truly splendid and memorable occasion) I stayed overnight in my alma mater, New College, waking to a sharp and freezingly frosty Sunday morning. Here are two images taken at 08:00 that day of the ‘New Buildings’ built in the 19th century outside the old City Wall which formerly bounded the College on the north side. I had rooms from 1971-4 on staircase 3.
Also visible are the City Wall itself (none of it to be seen remaining anywhere else in Oxford other than skirting two complete sides of New College), the bell tower (built shortly after the College’s foundation by William of Wykeham in 1379) and part of the north wall and antechapel of the college chapel, my inspiring musical home for those three years. The third image here is the rather startling sight of the new Magdalen College organ, dramatically lit for 45 minutes of solo organ music before its dedicatory Evensong.
My final organ survey of 2022 (no.36) has been to Hull City Hall – a two-day undertaking on 20th & 21st December. The enormous organ is full of impressive sights and I share three views here. The first is a group of four 1951 Compton chests containing some of the heavy wind pressure reeds, including an enormously powerful and very fine Tuba on 22ins pressure. Many of the pipes are by Compton but the smaller-scaled ranks are Forster & Andrews 1911, revoiced Compton. Just imagine having to tune this lot! Getting the reed knife in to the central rank (the Tuba) must be a huge challenge. I was careful not to disturb them.
The second photo is of the Vibraphone, which has a beautiful tone: this organ has five large percussion units within it, all by Compton and ex-cinema.
The final photo is of yours truly surrounded by the 16/8/4 Major Bass rank, with bottom D of the 32ft reed mitred just next to me. D sharp can be seen below it and bottom C in the background. What a spectacular organ with which to close my year!
Yesterday Anne and I spent a happy day at Belton House (a National Trust property of great character and beauty) and church, near Grantham. Wearing my hat as Diocesan Organ Adviser for Lincoln I was asked by the churchwarden Michael Coney to look at the charming little anonymous 2-manual organ in the church, which I duly did. The real treat for the day was then being allowed to play the 1826 Thomas Elliot organ in the gallery of the house’s chapel. Restored by Goetze & Gwynn in 1998, this gentle instrument with its delightful cantabile tone was a joy to play, the wind being raised by some very subtle hand blowing from Michael! The Great (with its spicy Sesquialtera/Cornet) descends to a sonorous low G, whereas the tiny Swell starts only at tenor G. Its unique pedalboard [pictured herewith] was added by Buckingham in 1833; I stayed clear of it! Greene, Stanley and Boyce all sounded perfect, the unequal temperament adding significant and welcome character. Belton is only 30 minutes away from us, so I look forward to a return visit at a warmer time of the year – the chapel was perishing cold!