Thursday, 26 April 2007

The Grand Organ Festival

Last night there took place the first recital in Westminster Cathedral’s 2007 Grand Organ Festival. It was particularly appropriate that this opening concert should be given by James O’Donnell, a former Master of Music of this Cathedral, and now Head Organist at Westminster Abbey (just down the road). In his time here, James did much to continue and develop the tradition of organ recitals. Fitting, too, was the appearance on his programme of work by the famed French organist Marcel Dupré, who inaugurated the first stage of the Grand Organ here at Westminster Cathedral in 1922, and who was closely associated with its evolution and completion.

The grand Organ Festival runs throughout this year, and revives a long and revered tradition in the Cathedral. A Grand Organ deserves grand music, and we are welcoming to this Festival some of the greatest International organists of our time. On July 4, Jean Gillou will be performing - possibly the world's greatest exponent of organ improvising. Other performers are Ludger Lohmann, Gillian Weir, Matthew Martin, Nicolas Kynaston and our own Martin Baker.

The Cathedral Henry Willis III Organ is one of the finest instruments in the world, here revealed in stunning photographs by Simon Lloyd, our organ scholar. Built between 1922 and 1932, it occupies the whole of the west gallery of the Cathedral, an unusual posiiton for an English cathedral organ. The spaciousness of the gallery allowed the various departments to be disposed on the same level, the pipes - concealed behind the wood and amrble screen - still having ample room to speak.

In 1984, the instrument was completely overhauled and restored by Harrison and Harrison. Improvements in the mechanical layout were made, and these included conversion of the pneumatic actions to an electro-pneumatic system. In 1996, Harrison and Harrison cleaned and overhauled the instrument, re-voicing selected stops to their pre-1984 state, and adding a stepper to control the general pistons.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Great to read about the Grand Organ.
I was at the Cathedral last week and noticed that there are some organ pipes in a gallery on the far left of the nave as you face the altar [before you enter the Blessed Sacrament Chapel]. There seems also to be a mirror placed there. Is this a set of pipes from a redundant organ or a division of the Grand/Choir organs?

Mark Langham said...

the pipes you noticed belong to Sir Richard Terry's original organ, used before the grand organ was built. It is stored up in a gallery above the entrance to the Blessed sacrament Chapel, and needs to be restored. I'll do a post on it ere long.

Anonymous said...

I loved the third picture, taken from inside the organ case. I am always reminded of Psalm 8 when I stand inside an organ case: "O Lord, our Lord, how admirable is thy name in the whole earth! For thy magnificence is elevated above the heavens." Standing amidst all the pipes and looking down the nave...even in our modest century old church pipe organ...reminds me of the grandeur of God's glory. Thank the Organ Scholar for the "eye candy" pictures.

Anonymous said...

Salivating at photos of this magnificent instrument -- this morning I played our two-manual, 82-yr-old Casavant, which can be pretty powerful, but the Westminster one ... ah, one can dream! Will there be a CD of the performances at the Organ Festival? If so, i'd definitely purchase a copy! When in the UK 6 yrs. ago I attended Mass at Westminster before returning home to Canada. Mea culpa, I'd been in and out of C of E churches for almost 2 wks. w/out going to Mass. The Cathedral was beautiful! God willing, I'll be back -- and hopefully to attend an organ recital.