Organ Symposium, Royal Festival Hall on 02/08/2014 by Claire Randall

Organ SymposiumI was the lucky recipient of Adrian Jacob’s ticket to the Organ Symposium at the Royal Festival Hall on 2nd August 2014 which he generously gave me having had to forgo the day himself for a family event which took priority.

What a day it was! The three hour morning session began with a performance by the Swiss organist and composer, Lionel Rogg, of his Fandango. There was an overview by Harrison and Harrison of the 8 years’ restoration of the organ. The 7,866 pipes remain and there is continuity in the organ’s appearance with the dummy pipes and monogram front being maintained. The changes to the organ are i) acoustic, giving warmth to the middle range and bass and ii) raised pipework with a shallower recess. We then had a ‘tour’ of the inside of the instrument by Andrew Scott using a roving camera attached to his helmet. It was fascinating to watch him from the auditorium walking behind the pipes whilst he showed us the different sections of pipes. He was able to demonstrate to us that there were indeed only three sides to the dummy pipes! 

There were talks on the design and character of the new as against the original organ of 1954, the organ’s pipe scales and G. Donald Harrison’s organ building in the USA and Ralph Downes’ experience during the 7 years he spent in America. The morning ended with Dame Gillian Weir reminiscing with Dr. William McVicker, the Southbank Centre’s organ curator, about her association with the RFH and treating us to an impromptu performance of Guy Bovet’s Totentanz, having “not touched a keyboard since December 2012.”

In the afternoon, Andrew McCrea, the Director of Academic Development at the RCO and Professor of Academic Studies at RCM, discussed the instrument and the repertoire the RFH organ inspired with Weston Jennings, the Centre’s Festival Organ Scholar, performing some of the works discussed including Kenneth Baker’s Paean.

Lionel Rogg, in discussion with Andrew McCrea, said that as a young man he worried about the organ’s radiating pedal board and today found it difficult being so near the pipes. He wished the console could be near the front of the stage instead! He said he thought “organists are too serious. Pleasure should be the first thing.”

The day culminated in a superb organ recital by Margaret Philips starting with Liszt’s Fantasia and Fugue on BACH, S.529. She used the solo reeds and cornets for Sweelinck’s 4 Chorale Variations on Allein Gott in der Hh sei Her, SwWV.299 contrasting this with J.S.Bach’s Chorale-prelude, Allein Gott in der Hh sei Her, BWV.662 using the registration used by Ralph Downes in his LP as a tribute to him. She played Sebastian Forbes’ sparkling Capriccio written for the Queen’s Silver Wedding with the finale being Lionel Rogg’s Hommage Franz Liszt (which he had explained earlier in the day he had written with both Liszt and Messiaen in mind).

It was a most inspiring day. Thank you Adrian.

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