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Royal Festival Hall Organ


Guest Lee Blick

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Guest Lee Blick

The other day I was watching a BBC News item on the re-opening of the Royal Festival Hall. I noticed on the shutters that hides the organ at the back of the stage a sort of a new 'hatch' had been cut in. Does this mean that the shutters do not open fully as they used to?

 

See picture here

 

I am wondering how can the organ properly speak with a smaller opening. Or is the partial refurbishment mean that some parts of the original instrument not going to to be reinstated after all?

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The other day I was watching a BBC News item on the re-opening of the Royal Festival Hall. I noticed on the shutters that hides the organ at the back of the stage a sort of a new 'hatch' had been cut in. Does this mean that the shutters do not open fully as they used to?

 

See picture here

 

I am wondering how can the organ properly speak with a smaller opening. Or is the partial refurbishment mean that some parts of the original instrument not going to to be reinstated after all?

If I understand the SBC newsletter from Jan 2007 correctly, there are new, automated doors concealing the organ.

 

The following comes from Harrison & Harrison's website:

 

"In August 2005 the organ was dismantled and stored in a separate warehouse in Durham. The Hall has been completely reconstructed with improved acoustics; it reopened in June 2007. The organ is being reconfigured to suit the new architectural and acoustic requirements: its depth has been reduced by 1.1m but the basic principles of the layout have been respected. The Great and Swell Organs and the Pedal Principal 32ft (forming the left-hand portion of the organ) have been reinstated, together with the console, and will be followed by the central and right-hand sections at a later date."

 

The SBC's website link is self-explanatory:

 

http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/organinfo/

 

Full details of the how the larger concert platform would affect the organ chamber and the layout of the instrument were provided by the SBC Organ Curator, Willam McVicker, in the 2004-5 RFH Organ Recital Series programme.

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Guest Cynic
If I understand the SBC newsletter from Jan 2007 correctly, there are new, automated doors concealing the organ.

 

The following comes from Harrison & Harrison's website:

 

"In August 2005 the organ was dismantled and stored in a separate warehouse in Durham. The Hall has been completely reconstructed with improved acoustics; it reopened in June 2007. The organ is being reconfigured to suit the new architectural and acoustic requirements: its depth has been reduced by 1.1m but the basic principles of the layout have been respected. The Great and Swell Organs and the Pedal Principal 32ft (forming the left-hand portion of the organ) have been reinstated, together with the console, and will be followed by the central and right-hand sections at a later date."

 

The SBC's website link is self-explanatory:

 

http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/organinfo/

 

Full details of the how the larger concert platform would affect the organ chamber and the layout of the instrument were provided by the SBC Organ Curator, Willam McVicker, in the 2004-5 RFH Organ Recital Series programme.

 

 

For the purposes of ordinary concerts, of course it would be a great achievement if the present work has managed to give the auditorium a more resonant acoustic. However, bearing in mind the effect that extra resonance can give to an organ, it is very likely is that pipes simply cleaned and put back in will sound seriously louder than before. It is clear from Downes' own comments in his (wonderful) book that the present ranks are voiced virtually flat out. The example is given there of how he took a genuine Schulze Diapason pipe into the brand new hall, put it on a voicing machine on the stage and the pipe that had sounded magnificent in Yorkshire sounded quite inadequate in South London.

 

H&H and William McV. will not only have their work cut out as this instrument is reassembled but the organ may well have to be re-regulated radically (to the extent of quite possibly not sounding very like it's previous self at all!). Indeed, to many minds, it has got to sound better for this work. God forfend that it simply be left seriously louder!!!!

 

At all events, if major re-voicing/rebalancing is done we cannot and should not blame them. This whole project has been well out of organ-minded hands from the start.

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Let's hope that (in my opinion) it will sound more like an organ and less like a screaming collection of organ pipes voiced absolutely flat out. I remember the so-called Major Bass 16' on the pedal being the most ineffective and useless waste of space ever!

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For the purposes of ordinary concerts, of course it would be a great achievement if the present work has managed to give the auditorium a more resonant acoustic. However, bearing in mind the effect that extra resonance can give to an organ, it is very likely is that pipes simply cleaned and put back in will sound seriously louder than before. [snip]

 

H&H and William McV. will not only have their work cut out as this instrument is reassembled but the organ may well have to be re-regulated radically (to the extent of quite possibly not sounding very like it's previous self at all!). Indeed, to many minds, it has got to sound better for this work. God forfend that it simply be left seriously louder!!!!

From Dr McVicker's Summary of Proposed Alterations in the 2004/5 RFH recital programme:

 

"When the RFH's acoustic character has been remodelled and the organ reinstalled, the pipework will be rebalanced to take into account the changes in the building's profile."

 

There are seriously sensible and musical heads on the shoulders of William McV and Mark Venning and the Durham team. I'm inclined to leave it to their considerable expertise to get the organ sorted so that (transformed) hall and instrument complement each other.

 

At all events, if major re-voicing/rebalancing is done we cannot and should not blame them. This whole project has been well out of organ-minded hands from the start.

Harrison & Harrison are listed on the SBC's website as a member (organ consultant) of the RFH Refurbishment Project Team, so perhaps you know something that we don't.

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From Dr McVicker's Summary of Proposed Alterations in the 2004/5 RFH recital programme:

 

"When the RFH's acoustic character has been remodelled and the organ reinstalled, the pipework will be rebalanced to take into account the changes in the building's profile."

 

There are seriously sensible and musical heads on the shoulders of William McV and Mark Venning and the Durham team. I'm inclined to leave it to their considerable expertise to get the organ sorted so that (transformed) hall and instrument complement each other.

Harrison & Harrison are listed on the SBC's website as a member (organ consultant) of the RFH Refurbishment Project Team, so perhaps you know something that we don't.

 

The fact that the entire organ is dismantled and flat packed in a seperate warehouse/lock up in Co. Durham also suggests strongly that Harrison and Harrison have been asked to rebuild and reinstall the lot, although I don't know for definite.

 

Charles

 

The hatch reffered to in the opening post may well be for the console. If you read William McVicker's excellent essay on the organ in Gillian Weir Priory Disc recoreded recently in the RFH it explained that the console will be replaced in the hall, but somewhat further back and attached to the organ chamber. This is because it kept getting walloped by the lighting rig as it was lowered to set up lights and the console soon got very tatty.

 

Charles

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Guest Lee Blick
The fact that the entire organ is dismantled and flat packed in a seperate warehouse/lock up in Co. Durham also suggests strongly that Harrison and Harrison have been asked to rebuild and reinstall the lot, although I don't know for definite.

 

Charles

 

The hatch reffered to in the opening post may well be for the console. If you read William McVicker's excellent essay on the organ in Gillian Weir Priory Disc recoreded recently in the RFH it explained that the console will be replaced in the hall, but somewhat further back and attached to the organ chamber. This is because it kept getting walloped by the lighting rig as it was lowered to set up lights and the console soon got very tatty.

 

Charles

 

The 'hatch' I am referring to is the one that looks as if it has been built into the big wooden screen at the rear of the stage. Does this mean the shutters no longer open all the way as it did before?

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Guest Nigel ALLCOAT

From BD - The Architects' Web Site I snatch the following:

 

Compared with the original suave design, the whole new arrangement is extraordinarily inept. The acoustic rewards will have to be very great and be demonstrated with both impeccable methodology and anecdotal verdict, to convince me that these alterations were worth the price of losing so much original fabric.

 

If we were to read in BD that it was proposed, for health and safety reasons and to improve sightlines, to “refurbish” Bernini’s baldacchino in St Peter’s by cutting down its columns and lowering the altar, we would be shocked.

 

I cannot understand why English Heritage, which is responsible for protecting our handful of undisputed 20th century architectural masterpieces, here clearly failed to do its job, and why any restoration should not have been treated with the same ethical consideration as that, say, of a Hawksmoor church.

 

Much of the conservation work done to the Festival Hall’s circulation spaces is admirable, but as the Twentieth Century Society warned in 2004, the brutal alterations to the auditorium constitute an act of cultural vandalism. Fortunately, a future restoration could reverse them.

http://www.bdonline.co.uk/story.asp?sectio...000000001314576

 

It all seems pretty bleak at the moment if this is what the professional architects are saying publicly. Heaven only knows what they are saying privately. I hope that an instrument of international importance will emerge against the odds. I wish all the fine musical folk every bit of luck. But if acoustically things have changed drastically for the worse (for the organ), the hall should have to think of a new re-cast organ. There is no point trying to squeeze the last drop of extra sound out of something that already was projected to the limit. If sound experiments seem to suggest a lacking instrument (when basic departments are installed) I firmly believe that a new approach needs to be taken. This opportunity will only come once and now is the time to get it all right - almost damning the cost. For goodness sake, this is the premier platform in the land. Money should not hardly become part of the equation in my estimation.

 

All he best,

Nigel

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For goodness sake, this is the premier platform in the land.

Which makes it rather a good idea to treat its value as a concert hall as more important than preserving the visual details of an acoustically badly flawed design. I have seen in many workplaces the result of architects putting appearance before function.

 

The hall as built was deader than anyone intended or expected. Radical change is what has been required to (hopefully) cure that. If it performs as designed it should be a better environment for the organ, and more like what it was originally expected to speak into. If this is not so, then the refurbishment will have been a failure, not just in other people's terms, but in its own.

 

Paul

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The hall as built was deader than anyone intended or expected. Radical change is what has been required to (hopefully) cure that. If it performs as designed it should be a better environment for the organ, and more like what it was originally expected to speak into. If this is not so, then the refurbishment will have been a failure, not just in other people's terms, but in its own.

 

Paul

 

Apparently, according to the 'Telegraph', Sir Simon Rattle has stated yesterday, after taking part in a sound test in the new hall, put out a statement saying: "We've just had the first day here. It has actually been a real pleasure to play. It was always an honour to play here but it wasn't always a pleasure."

 

Vladimir Ashkenazy, the Russian conductor and pianist, also endorsed the hall after a test. He said: "I think it is a better sound, I think the orchestra feel it is better. It is easier to play and everything sounds more attractive, more musical. There's more reverberation, too."

 

I think that with a more resonant space, the organ will not sound anyway near the same as it used to. There is a hope that it will sound cleaner, brighter, but much less 'forced' than before. The bass stops will 'bloom' into the building more effectively, creating a better sense of power and granduer (not out and out volume) one hopes.

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Guest Cynic
Apparently, according to the 'Telegraph', Sir Simon Rattle has stated yesterday, after taking part in a sound test in the new hall, put out a statement saying: "We've just had the first day here. It has actually been a real pleasure to play. It was always an honour to play here but it wasn't always a pleasure."

 

Vladimir Ashkenazy, the Russian conductor and pianist, also endorsed the hall after a test. He said: "I think it is a better sound, I think the orchestra feel it is better. It is easier to play and everything sounds more attractive, more musical. There's more reverberation, too."

 

I think that with a more resonant space, the organ will not sound anyway near the same as it used to. There is a hope that it will sound cleaner, brighter, but much less 'forced' than before. The bass stops will 'bloom' into the building more effectively, creating a better sense of power and granduer (not out and out volume) one hopes.

 

 

I agree with all this, but...

the implication is that everything will have to be revoiced.

 

I will never forget playing at Belmont Abbey after a new initiative had covered the previous floor with a thin layer of marble. A pretty useless and unexciting Nicholson re-vamp (3-manual) suddenly sounded magnificent. The effect of extra resonance on an existing instrument (unchanged) is greatly increased power.

 

We need not worry that the organ will be improved, this is bound to happen. We should simply note that it will not sound anything like the same and the cost will be substantial.

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... The hall as built was deader than anyone intended or expected. Radical change is what has been required to (hopefully) cure that. If it performs as designed it should be a better environment for the organ, and more like what it was originally expected to speak into. If this is not so, then the refurbishment will have been a failure, not just in other people's terms, but in its own.

 

Paul

 

 

Apparently, this was partly due to the fact that Hope Bagenall (the original consultant with the responsibility for the acoustics of the hall) made errors in his calculations - the result was rather more 'dead' than anyone had predicted.

 

I agree with all this, but...

the implication is that everything will have to be revoiced.

 

I will never forget playing at Belmont Abbey after a new initiative had covered the previous floor with a thin layer of marble. A pretty useless and unexciting Nicholson re-vamp (3-manual) suddenly sounded magnificent. The effect of extra resonance on an existing instrument (unchanged) is greatly increased power.

 

We need not worry that the organ will be improved, this is bound to happen. We should simply note that it will not sound anything like the same and the cost will be substantial.

 

Well, indeed - although I imagine that the reeds will still sound similar, unless H&H have been asked to include new shallots, tongues and a somewhat higher wind pressure. The other alternative is that the hall is covered in marble - and a dome is constructed from Caen stone and placed over the centre of the auditorium....

 

Otherwise, I am sceptical of just how different the acoustic response is now.

 

I wonder if it still suffers from standing waves....?

:rolleyes:

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Apparently, this was partly due to the fact that Hope Bagenall (the original consultant with the responsibility for the acoustics of the hall) made errors in his calculations - the result was rather more 'dead' than anyone had predicted.

Well, indeed - although I imagine that the reeds will still sound similar, unless H&H have been asked to include new shallots, tongues and a somewhat higher wind pressure. The other alternative is that the hall is covered in marble - and a dome is constructed from Caen stone and placed over the centre of the auditorium....

 

Otherwise, I am sceptical of just how different the acoustic response is now.

 

I wonder if it still suffers from standing waves....?

:rolleyes:

All true (ish); but... RD had the organ voiced for the building as it was, pipe by pipe - an extremely long and expensive procedure. Hopefully the changes have finally delivered the acoustic there should have been (but wasn't). This is great news for orchestras and choirs (and I well remember the sensation of being alone when sing or playing there) but ... how do H&H set about revoicing to get to what RD would have insisted on in these changed circumstances? (and, for example, should they reverse the changes made to the Solo organ late on when RD worried that there was insufficient power?) .. at best it will be an informed guess.

 

Inevitably it isn't going to be exactly as RD would have done it (and he probably would have wanted a slightly different sound in the different acoustic). The best accolade the instrument had was from GTB who said it rewarded skilled playing just like a well adjusted concert grand. If the 2007/9 work does the same then that's as much as we can reasonably hope for.

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I wonder if it still suffers from standing waves....?

:rolleyes:

 

 

If there is more reverberation, the standing wave problem would be reduced significantly, avoiding the 'one note bass' problem with the purer bass stops with which this organ has always been afflicted. I also believe there to be a 'repositioning' of some of the larger stops to accomodate the available space wich is now less than before...

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If there is more reverberation, the standing wave problem would be reduced significantly, avoiding the 'one note bass' problem with the purer bass stops with which this organ has always been afflicted. I also believe there to be a 'repositioning' of some of the larger stops to accomodate the available space wich is now less than before...

 

Let us also hope that something was done to improve the nasty plaster ceiling over the Pedal 32p ranks - that above the Bombarde 32p used to exaggerate certain frequencies and give a fairly unpleasant sound in the hall. I remember reading that a substantial wooden baffle had been installed a couple of decades or so ago. I wonder if it will be re-installed.

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... how do H&H set about revoicing to get to what RD would have insisted on in these changed circumstances? (and, for example, should they reverse the changes made to the Solo organ late on when RD worried that there was insufficient power?) .. at best it will be an informed guess.

 

These were not simply changes of voicing - the specification of the Solo Organ was altered substantially. It was originally intended to include a more 'orchestral' string with a keen céleste, some slightly more Romantic flutes and tubas - yes, really - but on a comparatively modest wind pressure. When I return from school, I will attempt to locate the original specification and post it (assuming that no-one else does so first).

 

By the time that people had raised concerns regarding the ability of the organ to lead massed forces, the Solo Organ was the only division in which the soundboards were still awaiting construction; therefore this was the only department in which such a radical change could be made without wasting considerable money and time already spent.

 

Here is the original 'tender' specification of the Solo Organ:

 

IV SOLO (enclosed, behind Grand)

16 Violon

8 Flûte Majeure wood

8 Violoncello

8 Violons Célestes

4 Orchestral Flute wood, harmonic

4 Spitzgamba (Fugara)

2 Zauberpiccolo stopped harmonic metal

II Tertian 24.26

16 Cor Anglais

8 Corno di Bassetto

Tremulant

8 French Horn

8 Tuba Major

4 Tuba Clarion

 

In fact, I have seen at least two other versions of this. I shall do more research when I get home - time permitting.

 

Here is the link to the full version of the above scheme - it makes interesting reading, since it differs subtantially from what was actually built:

 

http://www.ondamar.demon.co.uk/schemes/props/rfh.htm

 

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An article in the June edition of Gramophone about the £91m renovation of the hall states "The organ is undergoing restoration to its own timetable. Of its 7700 pipes, a core of 2500 (sufficient for orchestral music) will be in place for the re-opening, the remainder to follow by 2011".

 

Has this late date for completion been mentioned before? Presumably it is a funding issue as I read somewhere else (now lost) that there already is a shortfall in the existing spend on renovation of the hall.

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These were not simply changes of voicing - the specification of the Solo Organ was altered substantially. It was originally intended to include a more 'orchestral' string with a keen céleste, some slightly more Romantic flutes and tubas - yes, really - but on a comparatively modest wind pressure. When I return from school, I will attempt to locate the original specification and post it (assuming that no-one else does so first).

 

By the time that people had raised concerns regarding the ability of the organ to lead massed forces, the Solo Organ was the only division in which the soundboards were still awaiting construction; therefore this was the only department in which such a radical change could be made without wasting considerable money and time already spent.

 

Here is the original 'tender' specification of the Solo Organ:

 

IV SOLO (enclosed, behind Grand)

16 Violon

8 Flûte Majeure wood

8 Violoncello

8 Violons Célestes

4 Orchestral Flute wood, harmonic

4 Spitzgamba (Fugara)

2 Zauberpiccolo stopped harmonic metal

II Tertian 24.26

16 Cor Anglais

8 Corno di Bassetto

Tremulant

8 French Horn

8 Tuba Major

4 Tuba Clarion

 

In fact, I have seen at least two other versions of this. I shall do more research when I get home - time permitting.

 

Here is the link to the full version of the above scheme - it makes interesting reading, since it differs subtantially from what was actually built:

 

http://www.ondamar.demon.co.uk/schemes/props/rfh.htm

 

This is appears as part of the second design (pp 90-93) in RD's book. The actual tender spec (pp93-96 differs. It was reduced to:

 

8 Flûte Majeure

8 Violoncello

8 Viole Célestes (from A)

4 Orchestral Flute wood, harmonic

16 Cor Anglais

8 Corno di Bassetto

Tremulant

8 French Horn

8 Tuba Major

4 Tuba Clarion

 

This changed again (pp 120-122)

 

8 Flûte Majeure wood

8 Violoncello

8 Viole Célestes CC

4 Flûte Harmonique

2 Piccolo

16 Corno di Bassetto

8 Orchestral Oboe

Tremulant

8 French Horn

8 Trompette Harmonique

4 Clairon Harmonique

 

On p133 RD details the complete change to approx what was actually built that you refer to. On p170 RD details increases in wind pressures and reboring holes in the soundboards to get more power from Gt & Sw.

 

Presumably with more 'normal' acoustics little of this would have happened, but doubtless something else would!

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Interestingly enough I have heard a couple of items on Radio 4 this week about the RFH and all the work done. Not a mention of the organ though... a couple of mentions that whilst it was always a privilege to play the RFH it was not always a pleasure :o

 

Hope the organ is not going to be a victim....

 

(Carnigie Hall, Lincoln Center and I guess others - they all seem to claim to cope OK without a pipe organ)

 

Q

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Mmmm. Is it just me, or am I correct in thinking that there is no mention of the organ in the special Times supplement published today? Admittedly, I've only had a quick thumb through, but as I turned each pager, I was hoping the next would reveal a picture of the famous facade, or a story of the ground-breaking new organ that it was - (by all accounts.) Am I right? Is there really no mention? Shouldn't righteous indignation be expressed at the highest levels? (!)

Martin

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Hmmmm...despite publishing on Thursday a letter from Timothy Byram-Wigfield complaining that a previous article about the RFH hadn't mentioned the organ.

 

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/d...icle1895999.ece

 

Searching back to find the reference to the above, I came across this from Richard Morrison, which sounds very ominous:

 

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/c...l&offset=12

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Contrast the RFH problem with Birmingham's approach - the forthcoming celebration of the Town Hall reopening quite rightly includes information on the organ, as well as the Symphony Hall Klais:

 

Birmingham's Town Hall: The organ

 

(Not wanting to provoke an off-thread discussion, but I've heard few people speak well of the Symphony Hall Klais since the grand opening, which I went to. Although I've never had the opportunity to play it, to hear it both live and on recording, it sounds perfectly well, if a little polite. Did people simply expect something life-changing, and were consequently disappointed? Certainly it's given much-needed positive publicity to the instrument generally in the city.)

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I e-mailed Harrisons and got this reply:

 

Dear Mr Horn

 

Thank you for your enquiry. One third of the RFH organ is back in place (see information below, from our website), but there is no money at present for completion of the project. We are hoping that we can complete reinstallation in 2011-12, but there will need to be further discussions with the South Bank Centre before this is confirmed.

In August 2005 the organ was dismantled and stored in a separate warehouse in Durham. The Hall has been completely reconstructed with improved acoustics; it reopened in June 2007. The organ is being reconfigured to suit the new architectural and acoustic requirements: its depth has been reduced by 1.1m but the basic principles of the layout have been respected. The Great and Swell Organs and the Pedal Principal 32ft (forming the left-hand portion of the organ) have been reinstated, together with the console, and will be followed by the central and right-hand sections at a later date.

 

 

Yours sincerely

 

Katherine Venning

 

Harrison & Harrison

 

 

 

Just thought I'd let y'all know.

Cheers, Oliver.

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