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Gerard Brook's Letter


parsfan
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I see, from the Holy Trinity Hull page, that Gerard Brook's letter in OR has caught some people's eye. He makes some valid points. The recent recital, by Naji Hakim at Southwark cathedral attracted around 50-60 people. Those who stayed at home or in the pub missed nothing. A very ordinary improvisation, on three themes, disappointed. Three themes are too many especially when one of them is 'London Bridge is falling down'. Why, oh why, are organists given silly frivolous themes to improvise on. This recital actually persuaded me that Martin Baker was right when he said that the best improvisation occurs within the liturgy.

 

Back to Brooks. As someone who worships at ASLP I feel obliged to support the recitals. But the church's website contains no info, the series leaflet gives sketchy details about the programmes. However, the killer for me is the day- Monday- when my inclination is to place myself in fornt of the telly like a beached up whale with a glass of shiraz. The time does not help either. I would prefer a start time of 1930-less hanging around. I suspect that many people choose not to go to All Soul's recitals as they regard the Harrison as not being particulary distinquished and speaking into one of the driest acoustics in any London Church.

 

We do need recital organisers to get a grip and use the technology at their disposal. It's not good enough for the punter to discover the exact programme only when they arrive at the venue for the recital. In London the Temple Church, Westminster Abbey and Westminster cathedral all run excellent weekly recital series. If they want our support they should post forthcoming programmes on their websites.

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I see, from the Holy Trinity Hull page, that Gerard Brook's letter in OR has caught some people's eye. He makes some valid points. The recent recital, by Naji Hakim at Southwark cathedral attracted around 50-60 people. Those who stayed at home or in the pub missed nothing. A very ordinary improvisation, on three themes, disappointed. Three themes are too many especially when one of them is 'London Bridge is falling down'. Why, oh why, are organists given silly frivolous themes to improvise on. This recital actually persuaded me that Martin Baker was right when he said that the best improvisation occurs within the liturgy.

 

Back to Brooks. As someone who worships at ASLP I feel obliged to support the recitals. But the church's website contains no info, the series leaflet gives sketchy details about the programmes. However, the killer for me is the day- Monday- when my inclination is to place myself in fornt of the telly like a beached up whale with a glass of shiraz. The time does not help either. I would prefer a start time of 1930-less hanging around. I suspect that many people choose not to go to All Soul's recitals as they regard the Harrison as not being particulary distinquished and speaking into one of the driest acoustics in any London Church.

 

We do need recital organisers to get a grip and use the technology at their disposal. It's not good enough for the punter to discover the exact programme only when they arrive at the venue for the recital. In London the Temple Church, Westminster Abbey and Westminster cathedral all run excellent weekly recital series. If they want our support they should post forthcoming programmes on their websites.

 

 

 

I think this has to be right. Of course, if the recitalist finds they have come without the correct music, one would (having made the effort to get to the venue) prefer that they played something rather than sent everybody home again. Also, some allowance has to be made for those occasions when "events, dear boy, events" disrupt even the best of intentions/ well thought out plans so that the difficult new piece it was intended to give for the first time is not ready for its public unveiling. And one might allow some lattitude in respect of smaller "fillers" but I can see no reason why the main works intended to be played should not be publicised well in advance. Having committed himself or herself the player is then placed under some pressure to deliver acceptable performances. I will play whatever I feel like when I turn up canappear to be a case of not wanting to be committed to doing that.

 

The late Harvey Grace thought that all church organists (we are talking pre World War 2) should publish their voluntary lists in advance. His thinking went that no one would wish to advertise themselves as playing rubbish and so this practice would go some way to ensure that only appropriate music was selected. Likewise having indicated your intention of performing the G minor fugue (S542) or whatever three weeks hence you would hardly wish to turn up, deliver a pitiful performance , and then try and excuse that with an "I only grabbed this at the last minute and I have not practised it." Surely the basic principle of this approach applies equally to concert organists ?

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk

I would like to speak up for All Souls' Langham Place and Gerard Brooks' series there. I am biased, of course, because he kindly invited me to play there last year and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

 

I reckon that the real problem with virtually all London venues, excluding, let us say St.Paul's, Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral is that Londoners are rather spoiled for choice. These places all boast superb resident recitalists and interesting names at regular intervals.

 

If one were to list other London organs which really deserve to have good series, several of these are already catered for and carry on regardless of the numbers that attend, others equally deserving have no recent history of recitals at all. I would love to hear regular recitals at St.James' Spanish Place, (for instance). Many lesser-known London organs would be famous in any European city, but Joe Public tends to go where the loudest noises or biggest echoes are!

 

For my money, a member of an audience at All Souls' Langham Place would

1. hear more actual notes (and far better articulation/expression) than at any of the more famous venues

2. see the player better than elsewhere

3. sit in more comfort.

4. hear (potentially) faster and therefore potentially more exciting performances than make sense in a vast acoustic

 

The drawbacks at ASLP are definitely for the player who has nothing to cover the odd slipped notes! The organ itself is excellent - and the console gadgets are well up-to-date with everything a player could want except the ultimate luxury: The Professor's second sequencer control (slide-show projector wand-style) as at Liverpool.

 

After many years of attending, performing and promoting recitals, my philosophy is as follows:

 

Recitals are worth doing no matter how many actually come, so long as those who attend go away happy.

 

Recitals are an offering from the church to any who may care to come. They are also an invaluable stimulus to personal work. The only important question is, will a series cover its costs? A sensible church will weigh up several considerations, one of them being that a church has to be open and welcoming during the week - recitals are (in purely pastoral terms) an excellent outreach.

 

Recitalists have a choice when they choose a programme, essentially the same as the BBC's - they can educate and stimulate a (possibly) modest number of people, or they can go whole-heartedly for a mass audience in which case their programme will have to be more-or-less down-market. I (for one) could not summon up the energy necessary to stay in practice if I were limited to the pieces that concert promoters in such situations might tell me to play!

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Interestingly - I am off on Sunday evening to hear Barry Ferguson (ex Rochester Cath. and a superb composer) play at the Methodist Church in Gillingham down in deepest Dorset and quite near to me here in Somerset. According to the NPOR the organ is very much like those that I play week in week out (ie not one I would normally go out on a Sunday pm to hear a recital on) but I am really looking forward to hearing him play and I am sure it will be a treat.

We are lucky with Bristol, Bath, Salisbury, Wells etc. around within reasonable 'recital distance' but I have to admit partly by inclination and partly through family responsibilities I tend to get only to those that really grab my interest. Maybe I should support more but I have been to so many where top recitalists have come and played well but with something crucial lacking in the delivery and the repertoire. By this maybe I am being too critical - but by delivery I mean that hard to describe element that puts on a really 'entertaining' programme on. (In the broadest sense - Dame Gillian, Hurford, Kynaston, Bowyer etc. as well as the two mentioned below would fit into this 'entertaining' bracket - also locals such as Peter King, Marcus Sealy also from Bath Abbey and from slightly further afield Geoffrey Morgan) Not necessarily all lighter music and transcriptions etc. but a really well thought out combination of pieces with the audience in mind. I would have liked to heard Gordon Stewart at Romsey (see one of the other strands on this site) but am unable to get there and if Paul Derrett plays down this way I would willingly employ a child minder and pack my wife off for a girls night out to get to his concert.

Goodness knows how many will be at the Gillingham concert on Sunday - the seats will probably not be ASLP comfort, the organ will certainly not have any of the mod cons but I am sure those who are there will come out feeling glad that they attended.

 

AJJ

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Of course, if the recitalist finds they have come without the correct music, one would (having made the effort to get to the venue) prefer that they played something rather than sent everybody home again. Also, some allowance has to be made for those occasions when "events, dear boy, events" disrupt even the best of intentions/ well thought out plans......

 

======================

 

 

I recall giving a recital at St.Bride's, Fleet Street, when I had travelled a very long way, only to discover that I hadn't put "Hallelujah! Gott zu Loben" into the briefcase.

 

Prayer seemed inadequate, memory was not enough and with a heart-rate approaching that of a Formula One driver at the starting-grid, I considered my options. Fleeing abroad seemed slightly extreme and not in-expensive, whilst booking myself into a mental hospital seemed to be a bit dramatic....would I ever get out if they saw the state I was in?

 

Pacing around, gatherings my thoughts in Hyde Park, I hit upon an idea, and sprinted to the telephone. I rang the RCO librarian!!

 

I was like Vincent Price in that spider's web, as I screamed, "HELP ME!!!"

 

In spite of the fact that I had not the slightest conncetion with the RCO, and almost certainly never will have, the librarian was wonderful. He first of all calmed me down, made a couple of telephone calls and sent me along to a shop nearby

 

Panic over, I calmly wandered to Fleet Street and played my little heart out, but couldn't resist replying , when comment was made about the pristine copy, "Oh! I've had it a while. I thought I'd just bring it along to see what it sounded like!!"

 

I can be such a liar..... :lol:

 

 

MM

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I think one can agree with virtually everything that Paul says and still think that recital programmes should normally be publicised well in advance unless what is on offer is the musical equivalent of a "mystery tour". How many symphony orchestras advertise a concert and DO NOT tell the audience what is on the programme ?

 

It is possible to argue that if a recital is free or of the "retiring collection" type (whereby you can reflect your degree of satisfaction or otherwise by what you choose to drop in the plate ) then different considerations ought perhaps to apply. However, in many cases a ticket will cost £10 or more. There is also the expense of getting to a venue which may not be merely a walk away. I do not think it unreasonable for those who have to pay this to be told in advance what their money is going to get them. On the contrary I think they have a right to know this.

If one were to list other London organs which really deserve to have good series, several of these are already catered for and carry on regardless of the numbers that attend, others equally deserving have no recent history of recitals at all. I would love to hear regular recitals at St.James' Spanish Place, (for instance). Many lesser-known London organs would be famous in any European city, but Joe Public tends to go where the loudest noises or biggest echoes are!

 

For my money, a member of an audience at All Souls' Langham Place would

1. hear more actual notes (and far better articulation/expression) than at any of the more famous venues

2. see the player better than elsewhere

3. sit in more comfort.

4. hear (potentially) faster and therefore potentially more exciting performances than make sense in a vast acoustic

 

The drawbacks at ASLP are definitely for the player who has nothing to cover the odd slipped notes! The organ itself is excellent - and the console gadgets are well up-to-date with everything a player could want except the ultimate luxury: The Professor's second sequencer control (slide-show projector wand-style) as at Liverpool.

 

After many years of attending, performing and promoting recitals, my philosophy is as follows:

 

Recitals are worth doing no matter how many actually come, so long as those who attend go away happy.

 

I whole heartedly agree. But a factor that might well make people unhappy is turning up to a recital to find that what is being played is of no interest to them whatsoever. For example, both MM and I (to differing degrees perhaps) have indicated on this forum that the organ music of Herbert Howells does not do as much for us as it clearly does for many others. So neither of us might be expected to welcome arriving at a recital to find it entirely devoted to the music of HH.

 

Recitals are an offering from the church to any who may care to come. They are also an invaluable stimulus to personal work. The only important question is, will a series cover its costs? A sensible church will weigh up several considerations, one of them being that a church has to be open and welcoming during the week - recitals are (in purely pastoral terms) an excellent outreach.

 

Recitalists have a choice when they choose a programme, essentially the same as the BBC's - they can educate and stimulate a (possibly) modest number of people, or they can go whole-heartedly for a mass audience in which case their programme will have to be more-or-less down-market. I (for one) could not summon up the energy necessary to stay in practice if I were limited to the pieces that concert promoters in such situations might tell me to play!

 

I fully understand the need for the performer to remain enthusiastic and engaged, and am all in favour of education and stimulation, but as with food, so with music a varied and properly balanced diet is likely to produce the most favourable outcome.

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hear (potentially) faster and therefore potentially more exciting performances than make sense in a vast acoustic

 

 

NO!!!! Absolutely not!!!!!!!!!

 

I hate hearing pieces rushed through at a million miles an hour. I envy the technique of anybody who can do that, but I don't want to hear them play.

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NO!!!! Absolutely not!!!!!!!!!

 

I hate hearing pieces rushed through at a million miles an hour.  I envy the technique of anybody who can do that, but I don't want to hear them play.

 

Well said! I'm glad to find myself in good company.

 

I was bitterly disappointed at a St Paul's recital a couple of years ago, when someone destroyed the Meistersinger Overture by playing it at a pace ridiculous for ALSP, never mind the Cathedral. (A slight worry: had the player ever heard the music played in its original context...? And not necessarily conducted by Goodall/Knappertsbusch.)

 

Similarly, I found myself alone in finding a recent Abbey Summer recital very disappointing: too fast and too loud.

 

It's rhthmyic control which creates excitement/tension, rather than tempo. IMHO. ;)

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
NO!!!! Absolutely not!!!!!!!!!

 

I hate hearing pieces rushed through at a million miles an hour.  I envy the technique of anybody who can do that, but I don't want to hear them play.

 

 

To clarify, I hasten to agree with the above comment. [in doing so, I hereby apologise for any occasion where it may appear that I have tried to play faster than other people - this fault will be down to excess testosterone, adrenalin or nerves!]

 

My intention in saying that one would be able to play faster is that

1. one would be able to enjoy actually hearing the notes of a fast piece, or

2. a player with sensitivity could still sensibly play a piece at a livelier pace knowing that the notes can actually be heard.

 

I remember Christopher Dearnley advising people, for instance, that St.Paul's acoustic is considerably better for Handel than it is for Bach. Mind you, what St.Paul's acoustic does for Dupre (particularly at the hands of John Scott) is a thing to marvel at.

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My perspective on organ recitals comes from being a potential audience member, although I do appreciate something of what it is like to give a recital, having once, and only once, occupied the hot seat, sweaty palms and all.

 

As a Londoner, I tend to agree with Paul Derrett that we are rather spoiled, being able on any given Sunday to walk into St Paul's or Westminster Cathedrals and Westminster Abbey and hear a superb organ being put through its paces, sometimes by Paul, a frequent visitor to the smoke! That being said, the quality of these free recitals is somewhat varied. A useful tip is to go when a member of the home team, or Paul, are playing. These are tricky instruments and acoustics for the newcomer to conquer.

 

Being choosy about who to go and hear, whatever the venue, is also advisable. As has already been said, it's not the speed of the playing that's important, though it does have a bearing. What is often not recognised is that eminent and not so eminent Cathedral organists do not always make the best recitalists. The art of accompanying a choir does not necessarily translate into the most effective recitalist. What I am trying to say, in the nicest possible way, is that some of them are plodders.

 

Now going back to All Souls, yes it is very welcome that such a series is being put on, and with such (ahem) eminent recitalists. But being a Nine to Fiver for one, I am simply not willing to stay late at work and then turn up and pay the entrance fee before finding out what's on the programme. This does matter! We all have our likes and dislikes, and I for one am not prepared to turn up blind not knowing what is going to be played.

 

Of course there are other imponderables to consider. All Souls recitals are on Monday nights, the third rail of evenings out in London - touch it, and you die. Then there are things which no one can plan for, such as the weather. Martin Stacey puts on a great series of recitals at St Dominics Priory, Belsize Park. However, I haven't been back since the time I and a small band of hardy souls experienced the onset of hypothermia whilst listening to Martin working up a sweat putting the Father Willis through its paces in some lovely Vierne from the 24 Pieces de Fantaisie.

 

Jeremy Jones

London

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