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Organ Recitals And Mystery Programmes

Jeremy Jones

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I have a question. Why is it that it is deemed unnecessary to publish in advance the programme for organ recitals? Does the repertoire not matter?


This seems to be a situation you only really find with organ recitals, and in particular, those held in churches or cathedrals. Recitals, or concerts as they are sometimes called, in secular venues such as the Royal Festival Hall and Birmingham's Symphony Hall always publish what works are to be played. But enter a sacred place and it always tends to be a mystery until shortly before curtain up, when all is revealed. There are exceptions. Organ-centric places such as Lincoln Cathedral and Liverpool Anglican Cathedral are very good at publishing well in advance the programme, but they are the exception rather than the rule.


Let me give two examples to back up my claim. Following some recent work on Bristol Cathedral's Walker organ, David Briggs gave a re-opening recital last week. David's website had mentioned this a number of months ago, and in recent weeks whenever you logged onto Bristol Cathedral's website you couldn't fail to miss the banner highlighting the event. But as to the programme itself, neither website revealed so much as a sausage, and a Google search revealed no one else was any the wiser. Why the big secret? Now next weekend Andrew Caskie is giving a recital at the Reid Memorial Church in Edinburgh. All that I could find on the internet about this recital is that it features (Alfred) Hollins and his contemporaries. Now I am by chance going to be in the vicinity so I will probably go along anyway, but that really is not the point.


What seems to be the case, as far as I can see, is that it really doesn't matter what pieces are played at organ recitals - it's the instrument, and maybe the player as well that are the draw. What they actually play is secondary. Why should this be the case? Doesn't it matter whether Rheinberger, Messiaen or Bach is being played? Some people don't like Messiaen, and heresay though it is to say so, some people don't like Bach much either! But I think we need more detail than just the composer. Often it will just say: "Music by Bach, Howells, Liszt". But if you've gone that far, why not go the whole hog and tell us the very pieces that are to be played. Why should it have to be akin to getting blood out of stone?


Jeremy Jones


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Dear Jeremy,


I'd be delighted if you came to the recital, and hope that learning the full programme (below) will not change your mind! For those interested, the organ is a wonderful III/37 instrument built by Rushworth & Dreaper in 1935. Recently restored without alteration, it has all manner of Romantic colours, including a fine French Horn. Do say hello if you come.


Best wishes


Andrew Caskie


Saturday 30th April 2005 - Andrew Caskie

7.30pm, Reid Memorial Church, West Savile Terrace, Edinburgh (£5)


Fantasia & Fugue in G - Charles Hubert Parry

Chanson de matin - Edward Elgar (arr. H. Brewer)

Impromptu in D, Op. 5 - Francis Jackson

Five Short Pieces - Percy Whitlock

i) Allegretto

ii) Folk Tune

iii) Andante Tranquillo

iv) Scherzo

v) Paean

Melody in G minor - York Bowen

Festival Prelude on "Ein Feste Burg" - William Faulkes

Waltz of the Flowers (from "Nutcracker Suite") - Pyotr Tchaikovsky, arr. R. Goss-Custard

Concert Overture No. 3 in F minor - Alfred Hollins

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What seems to be the case, as far as I can see, is that it really doesn't matter what pieces are played at organ recitals - it's the instrument, and maybe the player as well that are the draw.


I've noticed that the instruments have a habit of remaining in the same spot, while the organist and repertoire change from recital to recital. So I find that after a while, it becomes the organist and repertoire that become the draw to go to a recital. The organ remains in place, becoming part of the establishment, along with the recital goers.


Nevertheless, I remember trying to get an article into the local paper about a recital I was giving at Bristol Cathedral. I remember the conversation went something like this:


"Oh, so they're bringing the organ of Bristol Cathedral to Weymouth"

"Err, no. I'm going to Bristol to play it"

"Oh right. Why? Can't they bring it down here?"

<deep breath> "Err,no. I think it's a bit big for that. It weighs about 40 tons and is about 30 feet by 40 by 20.... I'll sit in a loft about 15 feet off the ground to play it. We'd need a few HGVs to bring it down and it would take a few weeks to set up."

"Oh, right. <deep pause.> I thought they were all electronic keyboards now..."


Otherwise, I thoroughly agree with comments about publishing what music will be played. I find it's not always the case that other concerts publish exactly what is to be played, especially if it's a very big name or something a bit specialised, like, say Violes. I don't think organ recitals are especially bad in this respect but there's always room to improve....


I wish that cathedrals would make it easier to find their music lists on their websites. I've just spent 15 minutes hunting around a cathedral's website that I want to visit tomorrow and found it really difficult to find out what music they were doing for evensong. I wish more of them would put a link to it on the homepage.

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