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Andrew Lucas

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About Andrew Lucas

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  1. Hello David, I remember this concert very well indeed, though I have to refute your assertion that the octave coupler was used as you said by the resident organists (round that time this was mostly me!). The 'standard' setting of the pistons throughout the organ had been determined by Christopher Dearnley and all of us who used it regularly stuck with those settings. The octave couplers were sometimes used on both Swell and Solo for special effects with the strings and with the Oboe, or the quiet Solo reeds. This was for psalm accompaniments, for the most part. I can only think of less than a handful of times when I would have used the octave with Full Swell in order to achieve an extraordinary crescendo. The octave coupler was never set on the normal swell piston combinations in my time there (1980-1998). The effect down on the church floor can be horrible, largely because the 2' is very bright and the upper end very piercing (the Mixture ranks are much gentler). Visiting organists frequently made an error of judgement with this though, and I suspect that when you played you had been allocated piston channels normally used by visiting organists, many of whom saw a relatively small Swell of 13 stops and, as Simon Johnson says above, playing from a console which is upwind of the swell box, felt that it needed a bit of boosting or brightening.
  2. I'd just like to clarify this a little because otherwise the tales get exaggerated with the re-telling. The problem with the Queen and the St Paul's organ's Royal Trumpets is more to do with fanfares in general than the organ stops per se. Rather than have trumpets blasting her ears every time she walks through a doorway the Queen prefers any fanfare to happen before she walks through the doors. The Royal Trumpets are extremely loud, especially when you are standing underneath them. On many occasions I've seen people jump or wince when they go off unexpectedly. So it was always impressed on me that any fanfare for the Queen had to happen as she gets out of the car and comes up the steps and not to start when she is coming through the doors. The Gigout incident is slightly different. In 1985, I think, John Scott played it as a recessional after a large service and no-one bothered to tell him (or the rest of the music staff) that there was going to be a line up of people who had received medals or awards from the Queen who were going to be presented to the Queen inside the west doors at the end of the service. So you can imagine the devastating effect when the trumpets suddenly fired from above in the last few pages of the piece, conversations and presentations were cut short and unsurprisingly the Queen wasn't happy about it at all. The Royal Trumpets aren't banned from being used in her presence, merely that care is required in the timing of their use. I hope this clears this story up. Andrew
  3. Opening Events of the restored Cathedral organ - Saturday and Sunday 6th and 7th June, 2009 All are welcome - please come and join us. Saturday 6th June Entry to events on this day is free - these events are aimed to attract local supporters, donors to the organ fund, families and children 2pm Welcome by the Dean followed by a demonstration "The Colours of the Organ" by Simon Johnson, Organist of St Paul’s Cathedral 2.30pm Short Demonstrations and Guided Tours of the Abbey Organ Loft by the Abbey musicians 3.30pm Afternoon Concert - Dick Whittington and his Cat composed for organ and percussion by Guy Bovet - Simon Johnson Sunday 7th June at 3 pm Opening Recital by David Higgs Tickets £10 (concessions £5) available on the door or in advance (music@stalbanscathedral.org.uk) Programme: PROCESSIONAL from SUITE ‘LAUDATE DOMINUM’ (Dedicated to Ralph Downes) PETER HURFORD b. 1930 TOCCATA IN F, BuxWV 156 DIETERICH BUXTEHUDE 1637-1707 CANON IN B MINOR ROBERT SCHUMANN 1810-1856 ANNUM PER ANNUM Prelude-Kyrie-Gloria-Credo-Sanctus-Agnus Dei-Postlude ARVO PART b. 1935 FANTASIA AND FUGUE IN G MINOR, BWV 542 JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH 1685-1750 HARMONIES DU SOIR (OP. 72, NO.1) SIGFRID KARG-ELERT 1877-1933 BOLERO DE CONCERT LOUIS-JAMES-ALFRED LEFEBURE-WELY 1817-1869 SUITE POUR ORGUE, OPUS 5: PRELUDE, SICILIENNE, TOCCATA MAURICE DURUFLE 1902-1986
  4. Andrew Lucas

    St Albans

    Members of the message board may be interested to hear that the restoration of the H&H organ at St Albans Cathedral is now complete. The organ will be used for the first time at the Easter services. The opening recital is to be given Sunday 7th June at 3 pm by David Higgs, Chair of the Organ and Historical Keyboards Department at the Eastman School of Music, Rochester, New York. Tickets (£10; £5 for concessions) can be bought in advance or on the door. The organ will also feature in the 2009 IOF in July alongside the Mander organ in St Peters and the period-style Collins organ in St Saviour's churches. Many thanks AL
  5. We are spending a similar sum 'restoring' our somewhat smaller H&H organ by the original builder, whose quote was very competitive indeed. But besides the obvious work of action and pipework restoration and some additional material by H&H the total sum includes: the complete dismantling of the whole structure of the organ in order to gain access to re-leather all the reservoirs which are in the base of the instrument (thus avoiding having to do another complete dismantling within the next 25 years), electrical re-wiring and restoration work to floor of the organ loft and site, asbestos removal, work on the restoration and repair of the cases, replacement of all the slider soundboards which have been seriously affected by periods of excessively low humidity and, finally, a very significant amount will go on some serious scaffolding in order to dismantle and reinstall the instrument safely. So except for the dismantling, releathering and new soundboards, the other items are not work done by the organ builder H&H's 'men' (which includes at least one woman) all intend to stay in B&B accommodation locally or in a flat in North London. Without knowing all the facts of a particular contract perhaps it's not quite fair to make assumptions about the financial practices of the host and other organ builders who are members of the IBO based on a newspaper article.
  6. This is a subject quite close to my heart at the moment, given that I'm responsible for one of RD's instruments and it's current restoration and enhancement. I don't think that Downes was dopey for one moment, and won't bother with the other remark. The difficulty seems to be how we get his work in perspective. The organ at St Albans has been discussed quite a bit on these pages, sometimes very supportively and at other times rather derogatory remarks have been made, usually about its perceived unsuitability for playing for the cathedral services. Having come here from working with a very different instrument, but also with quite a wide experience of many other instruments in all sorts of styles, including other organs designed by Downes, I was generally surprised by the instrument here. I didn't quite take to it at first, it took me time to find its charms. Also there were problems with it which had to be ironed out, chiefly to do with maintenance and as we later discovered with soundboard problems (due to excessive heating of the building in the winter months). But gradually it won me over. It makes music. Like all organs it seems to have moods, and like some organs has rather violent mood swings at times. I presume this is all to do with the effects of temperature and humidity on the organ and on the acoustic - it very definitely sounds so much better when it has just been tuned and always sounds at its very best in the Organ Festival when it is tuned very thoroughly and spot tuned each morning. I also assume that because all voicing of the organ is not as strongly 'controlled' as when using more mainstream voicing techniques the brightness and overtones of the pipes clash as the instrument moves out of tune. It is true to say that, in an instrument pared down in size, and which was designed to be very versatile for organ repertoire as well as services, it does have limitations. Some are quite frustrating to live with at times. There are one or two sounds that I don't particularly care for. But I quickly grew to love what it CAN do, and so has every other organist I know who has lived with it. But for the casual organist it isn't always obvious how to play it for evensong, and it can be frighteningly unforgiving, especially at close quarters in the organ loft. It IS very easy to make it sound harsh or unpleasant if you don't know how, but equally it doesn't have to sound like that. What organists have to do is choose registrations carefully, using your ears and experience as much as convention. Hoofing up and down the pistons might work, but sometimes won't. Perhaps this is the real problem with organs like this. The vast majority of organists are not going to be very experienced in playing on a great variety of organ styles outside the mainstream English style and therefore an instrument like this can be rather bewildering to play, especially when your head is virtually inside the instrument. What IS interesting is that we get large numbers coming to hear music played on the organ here in concerts and in the organ festival. The same used to apply to the RFH when they had their Wednesdays at 5.55 series of concerts (about 20 per year). Most who attend these concerts aren't organists and many aren't real organ 'fans' (wind pressure/specification organ buffs), but they are interested in hearing organ music, especially Bach. And that is what I pick up from the audiences - they hear the music, the clarity of lines and counterpoint and structure and they like it. We are blessed with a resonant building, but one that is not overly reverberant so sounds are clear but warmed by the acoustic. The impressive rolling rich tones of nineteenth and twentieth century cathedral organs which we organists love to hear (I do as much as anyone else) and which sound quite lovely in the psalms at evensong don't endear themselves to the average listener of music. I am most definitely not advocating Downes organs as the be-all-and-end-all. Far from it. He was fallible and many of the instruments he designed have significant flaws, though some are also very successful. The blend of these organs seems to me to be their chief fault, not quite so obvious when it is all dead in tune, but as the stops begin to wander out of you can hear the constituent parts begin to pull apart. Sometimes it would be nice to hear more variety of colour in the softer stops, though at St Albans we have no shortage of variety of 8' flue stops. I would dearly love NOT to have to hear so often 2' flutes coming in on top of the 8' and 4' Principals because there are no independent 2' Principal stops. That is being rectified at this very moment. There is also that odd 'hollowness' in the tenor region that I suspect comes from Downes' adherence to peculiar scale plans and the strong twelfth overtone that many of the stops possess, but which can become very irritating when present all the time. We also have to face the fact that, in this country, we are not generally blessed with the great open church buildings with their very high vaults that one finds in almost any town of significance almost all over mainland Europe. English cathedrals are often not as lofty as European counterparts, and this, combined with the organ being placed near the singers in the choir, means that European models for organs don't really work as well in English churches. This is another flaw in Downes' well intentioned schemes - that he based his designs on a fantasy European model. And most of us base our opinions of him on one organ, the RFH, which was in the worst acoustic for a concert hall imaginable, and would be disastrous for any organ. The instrument I have in my care is a very good Musical instrument, that works excellently for all the tasks that it has to perform, of which choral evensong is one significant part, but by no means its only primary activity. But I accept it isn't perfect. It is my view that if we were to change it by revoicing it wholesale, or alter the design of the organ in significant ways, or even if we were replacing it with a new organ, (and assuming a perfect world where we have the money and support to do such things) then we would be assessed in the future as acting recklessly. We would be harming a significant instrument, built at an interesting period in our cultural heritage. I don't know if Downes had hearing problems. I certainly don't think that the all organs he designed, or which were influenced by him, all make horrible sounds (that assertion seems to me to be unworthy of those who make them). Undoubtedly Downes was awkward, he didn't want to be advised by the organ establishment in England because he didn't like the organs they had built and so he didn't listen to other opinions. And he heard what he wanted to hear. Don't we all - that's one reason why no two English cathedral choirs sound the same? Where would we be without Downes? Isn't he a counterpart to the general interest in early music in the mid twentieth century and part of the beginning of the Early Music movement (just like David Munrow or Neville Marriner in this country) which gave us a leading light in the organ world in Peter Hurford in England? None of these were 'authentic' period musicians and we may not like what they did. But they led the way. Surely that is also Downes' legacy.
  7. Hope you don't mind me adding to this thread as I have a bit of a vested interest in the subject. The improvisation competition at St Albans in my experience is a bit variable in the standard of the competitors from year to year. So we have had excellent winning improvisers in the past (Mourik in 05, Houssart in 03, and before them Baker, Briggs, Hakim, Bovet etc). This is only the third time since 1971 that the jury hasn't awarded the prize (and in 1999 the competition was cancelled due to a low standard of entrants). In the end it's all down to what happens on the day. This year the two finalists didn't come up to a standard which would uphold the high standard of the competition which has been set over the years by players such as those named above. We wouldn't do the reputations of ourselves, the previous winners or any of the recent competitors any good by awarding a prize when the playing fell below an acceptable standard. Where they fell down this year (and indeed where all the competitors in the semi-final except one) was in their ability to improvise within a disciplined style. This is something expected of concert improvisers if not often expected of liturgical improvisers. The prospectus was published 18 months ago but it was obvious that most hadn't done enough preparation, particularly in terms of style, harmony and counterpoint. Unfortunately the one player who did do this part particularly well then gave an extremely poor improvisation in the final - it just wasn't his day. Some need to learn that it's just not good enough at this level of competition to make all your improvisations in one style, with one basic idea. On the whole I don't feel that it would serve the organ world well not to have an improvisation competition in the St Albans Festival. I'm sure it spurs young people on to improve their improvising skills, but I hope that any prospective competitors will note that relying on inspiration on the day rather than hard graft over a long period of time will inevitably mean they will be found out. I hope this clarifies the situation. Andrew
  8. Oh, don't be so coy Adrian ... of course we are!
  9. Actually at St Albans we do have a 16' reed on the Great. Curiously, we just don't have 8' and 4' ones (well, of the more sociable, chorus type), so these are what we are adding. (Apologies - I now see this repeats information given by others).
  10. How interesting. I've never noticed that, but perhaps it's a bit like telling jokes ... it's the way you tell 'em. Andrew Parnell and Simon Johnson certainly make the accompaniments sound colourful and singing.
  11. I think that what you are describing may have appeared like that from where you were sitting but in fact, usually on Sundays anyway, the choir used to sing the first and last verses 'full' but the intervening verses were sung alternately by Decani and Cantoris, the other side resting. Powering your way through nine rather long hymns on a Sunday could be very tiring along with all the other music the choir has to sing, so it was done to give the boys (and men) some vocal rest.
  12. Oh - I'm awfully sorry! I don't recall that at all, though I have a vague recollection of a lady verger there being as mad as a mongoose ... she certainly didn't get the better of me, because I'd been there longer. But then at St Vedasts a Stopt diapafon was more than enough to practise on. I think she was exaggerating. And anyway, I wish I had the alleged authority over certain virgers in my present place of employment!
  13. Apologies - I'm not in the peripatetic virtuosi class, but I find three hours is a minimum optimum time. It depends on the organ, of course. It's the time taken up to assess the organ, decide the registrations, write them in - rehearse controlling the organ, listening to the organ and the acoustic - coping with its quirks, uneven actions, unusual piston configurations - that all takes time. Some organs are impossible to balance to your satisfaction - you have to make difficult choices. Other organs and acoustics are very easy, but in my limited experience they're a rare commodity! Playing on a large Dutch organ, with registrants rather than a piston system naturally takes much longer - for me more like 6 or 9 hours because of the time taken with writing in registration, shorter keyboard compasses and the pedal boards, etc. Though doing Elgar's sonata can be fun! But I find less than three for an hour's programme and I'm winging it too much for my own comfort. After practise and travel on the day you don't need more stress but do too much on the day and you risk tiredness at the wrong moment!
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