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Neil Crawford

Birmingham Town Hall Organ

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:D Now that work has started on the building,can someone advise what changes

if any will be applied to the organ?Also as i understand the acoustic in the building is to improve,any changes to the voicing?

 

PS well done on the RAH organ.

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By coincidence I was at Birmingham Town Hall yesterday talking about just this matter.

 

Preliminary work has started on the refurbishment of the Birmingham Town Hall and it is very exciting. The upper gallery is to be removed and the lower gallery is to be restored to closer to the original dimensions. The interior of the hall has been stripped of carpet and seating and this has led to one of the most remarkable transformations in the acoustics I have ever experienced. The organ has blossomed in a way I could never have imagined. I have to admit that the organ whilst interesting, never really grabbed me, but in the changed acoustic, it really did grab me and I had difficulty in believing I was really listening to the same organ. The chorus work has gained a clarity and immediacy and the chorus reeds in particular have a newly discovered clarity and fire. It really is quite remarkable. Jane Allsop, (chair of the organ committee and shadow board member) is very aware of this and doing all she can to ensure that the restored BTH retains this remarkable transformation. When one thinks about it, the BTH should have a good acoustic as it has all the elements which one would expect to lead to a good acoustic; the shoebox shape and traditional building materials, so it should rival the best in the world but in our lifetime never has. It has after all a more than passing similarity to the Musikverein in Vienna, often held to have the best acoustic in the world.

 

The organ will be refurbished as part of this work, but no major changes will be made. However, over the past four days, my colleague Michael Blighton has been carrying out some experiments and this has indicated clearly what minor changes can (and will) be made. Yesterday, I met Nicholas Thistlethwaite and Thomas Trotter, together with Jane Allsop and we reviewed the experiments and mapped out the way forward. I think the final result, provided the acoustic remains as it is at present, will be a great improvement.

 

John Pike Mander

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This is great news about the acoustical improvement. I found the organ in it's pre 1984 state to be a bit dull and muddy, and after the rebuild a little agressive and harsh in full organ combinations. I am sure the improvements to the acoustic will have made it an easier organ to listen to.

 

It would be interesting to know the projected timescale of the organ restoration, and when it might be heard again

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I would agree with your assessments wholeheartedly. The 1984 rebuild attempted to address both its muddiness and its inadequacy with respect to any sort of balance with the CBO. The result was an aggressiveness which is now unnecessary as well as undesirable as the CBO has its own hall and organ. I hope that this time round we may get it right and if the acoustic stays as it is now (which is SO much better than it was before all the interior was ripped out) we have a very good chance. The bad news is that we will have to wait till 2006 before we know (in answer to your question).

 

John Pike Mander

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Guest Roffensis

Dear Mr Mander,

What fantastic news about Birmingham, and!!! how very enlightening that the carpets have gone, yippee, and that the acoutic is returning, which of course is what Hills would have voiced for. This organ always sounded dull in that building, pretty dead as it was, yet knowing the quality of Hills voicing, it was difficult to comprehend. I still maintain that Hill was our Greatest Organ Builder of the Victorian era, and I would like to thank you for the excellent last restoration you made of Birmingham, and for the removal of the butcherings and other atrocities it suffered in the past. I heard it played shortly before it last closed, and I never heard it sound so balanced and musical. I also have the greatest respect for Chichester, and the way in which it was respected and so cautiously added to. Hats off to you!!! On a final note, concerning the seating removed at Birmingham, clearly anything going back should be along vinyl lines as at St Georges Hall Liverpool (not fixed) and Liverpool Cathedral (not fixed). This type of chair does not soak up the sound in the same way as plush seating. The chances are that plush seating will return though? It is also interesting to see how our Cathedrals are reseating their buildings, and as examples, both Rochester and Chester have plush seating in the Choir and Nave respectively. Chesters "roll" in the nave has been dramatically curtailed by this move, while Rochester, with plush seating only in the east Transepts, has not suffered so much at all, but it does seem to be a growing trend and the detrimental effect on both organs and music needs to be both highlighted and addressed as we stand to lose clarity for the next 50 years in some cases. Richard.

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As I understand it, the seating is going to be of a sort which should not absorb too much sound. The people there are aware of the issue and we keep pressing them on it, but although there is an awareness of the improvement with the removal of the carpet and plush seating, we are not yet certain that some won't creep back in there.

 

John Pike Mander

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Guest Roffensis

Fingers crossed then.......I remember a little church I played for a time which housed an original 1877 Willis, but the chancel was stuffed with carpet. The Fifteenth was very bright, piercing really, and not at all nice to play on. I finally persuaded those in authority to remove about two thirds of the carpet. The reverb did not increase much at all, not even a second, but the clarity did. The harmonics in all pipework returned very clearly, and the organ simply sprang to life. it was incredible. I hope Birmingham keeps with little or no carpet etc. It does not come down so much to reverberation time, as harmonic absorption it seems?

Richard.

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Guest Barry Oakley

As an aside to the Birmingham Town Hall topic, there are many who will be wondering how the £12million refurbishment of Sheffield's City Hall (not including the organ) will affect the fine 1932 Willis III organ when it reopens later this year. Since the hall was completed it has suffered from a poor acoustic, much to the disappointment of Willis himself and also Edward Bairstow who jointly drew up the specification. The hall contained seating covered in thick, sound absorbing upholstery and there was also a thick carpet. Hopefully these will not reappear.

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That is indeed the plan. It was meant to boost the organ to match the BSO forces which are considerable, but that requirement is no longer needed. Of course part of the trouble was not with the section itself, but the way it got used inappropriately by some organists. But it is not very pretty one has to admit. Organ builders sometime maintain that there are no organs which are too, loud, but some organists play too loud.

 

John Pike Mander

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Organ builders sometime maintain that there are no organs which are too, loud, but some organists play too loud.

 

John Pike Mander

 

I am shocked.

 

'...some organists play too loud' -

 

shurely shome mishtake?! :P

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Guest Roffensis
I am shocked

 

'...some organists play too loud' -

 

shurely shome mishtake?! :P

Ha!! My greatest discipline was of regularly playing a very small organ of only 11 stops for 7 years, with nothing above 4 foot. It really was less means more to fall back on as and when. There are a lot of power fiends out there!!...go on admit it!! I have always been very concious what I use in registration, you get more respect, and its more musical. Pierre Cochereau did rock, but how faithful was he really to the music? In Orchestral music it would be frowned on to alter registrations ie orchestrations....bit like supermarket rehashes of bach and Vivaldi..... . methinks the organist has too much freedom!! We need more taste, and should ever be concious not to abuse any organs resources. Here endeth....

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Organ builders sometime maintain that there are no organs which are too, loud, but some organists play too loud.

 

John Pike Mander

 

'The Birmingham discussions remind me of a visit to the Ulster Hall Belfast some time ago with a usually fairly restrained crowd - one member of the group got distinctly carried away (for a considerable ammount of playing time) with the horizontal Fanfare Trumpet there - a visible (and aural) personality change came over him in fact. In time the whole experience became quite painful for the rest of us! :P - maybe a health warning on the console...? Seriously though - one was left thinking about the actual MUSICAL point of such a stop.

AJJ

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An interesting thread is developing here. Organists can sometimes be their worst enemy, but organ builders don't always help by providing Bombarde sections containg batteries of reeds which are anything but musical.

 

JPM has admitted here that the Birmingham Bombarde probably needs to be reined in a bit. Another Bombarde section which I have never liked is the one installed at Westminster Abbey in 1987 by Harrisons. The 16/8/4 reeds are anything but refined and sound coarse and harsh and make no attempt whatsoever to blend in with the rest of the instrument. But of course, organsists adore them! I was at the re-opening recital at the Abbey in 1987 given by Simon Preston and still recall with shock the impact the new reeds made when used at the climax of the Dupre Symphonie-Passione. I literally had to cover my ears to protect them from this assault.

 

Jeremy Jones

London

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Ha ha !

 

This is quite interesting. Wouldn't a reason for this be the fashion towards "french" chorus reeds? I tend to believe french reeds are better "endowed with the powers of expression" like someone once wrote...

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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Quite so, Pierre.

 

There is nothing inherently wrong with the fashion in organ building moving towards French style chorus reeds, and on the right instrument, such as St Ignatius Loyola, they make perfect sense.

 

But Westminster Abbey? You would be hard pushed to find a more English sounding instrument, where the Swell is sweetness personified and provides colouring that is ideally suited to the works of Howells, Whitlock and Elgar, and the 8ft Tuba Mirabilis is silky smooth and totally inoffensive, but wonderful all the same. To which has been bolted on a brassy battery of Bombarde reeds totally at odds with the rest of the instrument.

 

What may be fine for Coventry Cathedral or St George's Chapel, Windsor, just does not make any sense at the Abbey, and shows a serious error in judgement by the normally reliable Durham organ builders.

 

Jeremy Jones

London

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Mind you, I had yesterday two friens organists at home. We listened to Simon Preston's Reubke and Liszt at Westminster (A CD about eighteen years old). They were amazed....At the reeds, so characterfull...

 

Beyond the fact the Mander organ in NY is of course something different, and Hill's, and Willis' organs, and, and, and... I wonder if such reeds would be possible with a tracker action, so high is the wind pressure they need. Everything is part of a whole, one may not built a style like a puzzle.

There are no such things as "good" and "bad" styles.

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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Mind you, I had yesterday two friens organists at home.

We listened to Simon Preston's Reubke and Liszt at Westminster

(A CD about eighteen years old). They were amazed....At

the reeds, so characterfull...

 

 

Is it an earlier recording, re-mastered for CD? I do not think that Simon Preston has recorded at the Abbey for a long time. If so, then no wonder the reeds sounded good (and homogenous) - the Bombarde section did not arrive until 1987. So the recording only shows the H&H usual type of chorus reeds.

 

Ah well....

 

In reply to Jeremy Jones - it may not have been H&H who had a lapse in taste. Sometimes even really big firms are unable to talk clients out of something unsuitable!

 

Mind you, if you think that is loud, you should try standing against the organ case in the tribune at N-D, Paris. The chamades are about four feet above head level. I never heard my ears distort before - I thought only stereo speakers did that! :unsure:

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Pierre Cochereau did rock, but how faithful was he really to the music? In Orchestral music it would be frowned on to alter registrations ie orchestrations....bit like supermarket rehashes of bach and Vivaldi..... . methinks the organist has too much freedom!! We need more taste, and should ever be concious not to abuse any organs resources.  Here endeth....

 

Surely the orchestral analogy is a red herring? It would be extremely difficult to re-'register' an orchestral piece (but still have it played by an orchestra). It would have to be re-scored, new parts copied and different players would have to learn new sections. It is possible that salaries would be affected, in some cases adversely, since most British professional orchestral players are paid by the hour, I believe!

 

All an organist has to do is re-set a few pistons!

 

Yes, Cochereau did sometimes take liberties with the composers' intentions (the later recordings of the Vierne Symphonies are prime examples of this). However, he was also capable of faithful, thrilling and stunning performances. Try the first recording he made at N-D (Vierne Symphonie 2me., Dupre Symphonie-Passion, Liszt Ad nos...). The tempi and registration are pretty faithful and the quality of the playing is excellent. Also, his later recording of the third movement from Dupre's Evocation is stunning. The performance is electric. It is quite fast, but it is both accurate (as far as I can tell) and musical! :unsure:

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This recording is from 1985....Two years before:

 

Reubke: Organ Sonata the 94th Psalm

 

Liszt: Fantasia and fugue on "Ad nos"

 

Simon Preston

 

Deutsche Grammophon 415 139-2

 

A gem ! H & H's Tuba interventions in these pages are something quite unusual for continental ears, while the Trombas mixed with Diapason choruses sustain the majority of the music's lenght. An original, legitimate organ style.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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I would like to hear those - I am willing to bet that they are stunning!

 

I have only played the Abbey organ once, but I thought that it was a superb instrument. However, I did not get up as far as the fifth manual whilst exploring, due to lack of time, so I still have not heard the Bombarde section 'live'!

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I would like to hear those - I am willing to bet that they are stunning!

 

I have only played the Abbey organ once, but I thought that it was a superb instrument. However, I did not get up as far as the fifth manual whilst exploring, due to lack of time, so I still have not heard the Bombarde section 'live'!

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Maybe we should ask the Webmaster if it would be possible for us to load musical files somewhere in order we can share them.

"Ad Nos" is by no way a short piece, Reubke even heavier...

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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Simon Preston had Harrisons change the voicing of the Westminster Abbey Great Trombas to Posaunes in the 1982 reconstruction. This is all documented in Dr David Knight's excellent article in BIOS 23. There is actually a quote on a page about 'the change in nomenclature in 1982 from 'Tromba' to 'Posaune' highlights the change in voicing from 'smooth and intense' Trombas to Posaunes 'to give added fire to the ensemble'.

 

There is a wonderful old recording of the Abbey organ on the EMI Great Cathedral Organ Series which really shows it colours in Rheinberger's Sonata 8.

 

If you want to enjoy true Great Tromba tone try Christopher Herricks Organ Fireworks recording at Wellington Town Hall NZ. 1906 Norman & Beard - an Edwardian English concert organ at its greatest. And the Swell reeds are period Posaunes and absolutely superb.

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