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DouglasCorr

P D Collins Organ At Turner Sims

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I’ve just received my programme for concerts at the Turner Sims Concert Hall in Southampton and I’m upset to see that another concert season will go by without an organ recital. The extensive 3 manual Peter Collins organ has not featured in a recital for a number of years now, excepting by John Scott Whiteley at the end of last season: this was well attended and the instrument sounded wonderfully. In past times there were three concerts a year, one in each term. I think the current situation is a very sad; it represents a shameful neglect of a significant concert instrument by the university, its music department and the concert hall management. I shall be writing to them.

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I think the current situation is a very sad; it represents a shameful neglect of a significant concert instrument by the university, its music department and the concert hall management. I shall be writing to them.

 

I know for a fact that the music department is doing its best; the lecturer in performance is both an exceptional player and an exceptionally nice person. Trouble is, the instrument is in woeful condition, with the usual Collins-of-the-period mechanical problems, and has some terrible design flaws that mean the tuning becomes unbearable when the auditorium has been filled for 20 minutes (sloping floor, steep temperature change gradient, Werkprinzip layout doesn't like it); the hall management is also doing its best, but its use is so compromised - you can't seriously engage a concert artist & tell them to play all the slow stuff in the first ten minutes, and everything thereafter must be fast and staccato, with nothing on the Oberwerk in the second half. The JSW recital you mentioned had such constraints upon it - I am told several ranks were unuseable by the end. There was a real stink when DGW did a recital on it and found it fine all day, but again virtually unplayable shortly after an audience had arrived. She was naturally unimpressed. A committee has recently been formed to see what to do about the organ so things ARE happening for the longer term.

 

I would think the term "significant concert instrument" may be a little too grand for it! Some may be hard pushed to describe it as even a "musical instrument" and would wish it to go the way of many other 1970's Collins instruments. Certainly, it can't realistically be used in the condition it's currently in. It's not a case of neglect - the thing's less than 30 years old, in a dream location in terms of sunlight, temperature and humidity, and had a major rebuild by Collins himself less than 10 years ago. Over the last few years it has received constant ministrations from two large organbuilding firms. That is certainly not a neglected instrument, just perhaps a not very good one.

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I was an undergraduate at Southampton when the Collins went in and I don't remember it having too many problems then. Peter Hurford came to perform along with Margaret Philips, Piet Kee etc. and under the regime then it was much used as a solo recital instrument and with orchestral and choral groups. It was a good instrument to learn on - reasonable tracker jobs were rarer then - certainly as one who had been used to electropneumatics up till then it did my technique some good and allowed access to sounds not possible at the local parish church.

 

AJJ

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I was an undergraduate at Southampton when the Collins went in and I don't remember it having too many problems then.

 

Neither for the first couple of years did Brasenose, nor Oakham, nor Fitzwilliam, etc etc etc etc etc... I understand Brasenose actually ended up with a lawsuit, so poor was its longevity.

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the tuning becomes unbearable when the auditorium has been filled for 20 minutes (sloping floor, steep temperature change gradient, Werkprinzip layout doesn't like it); the hall management is also doing its best, but its use is so compromised - you can't seriously engage a concert artist & tell them to play all the slow stuff in the first ten minutes, and everything thereafter must be fast and staccato, with nothing on the Oberwerk in the second half.  The JSW recital you mentioned had such constraints upon it - I am told several ranks were unuseable by the end.  There was a real stink when DGW did a recital on it and found it fine all day, but again virtually unplayable shortly after an audience had arrived. 

 

What you describe seems to me to be clearly more of a problem with the air conditioning in the hall rather than the organ itself!

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What you describe seems to me to be clearly more of a problem with the air conditioning in the hall rather than the organ itself!

 

Not so much the air conditioning as the raked floor, and not so much the organ itself as its apparently thoughtless and flawed design. In any building so steeply raked the circulation is going to be pretty dire, as air circulating in a triangle leaves huge untouched voids in each corner. The air conditioning actually helps, and significantly, with the circulation. It was just silly for any builder to see that site and expect an organ working at so many different heights to be satisfactory in terms of tuning stability. Had they taken the RFH or Clifton Cathedral approach of going more horizontally than vertically, most likely there wouldn't be a tuning problem, and then there would just be the dreadful mechanical unreliability to overcome. They could even try simply ducting the blower air intake to ceiling level, to see if the whole instrument receiving air at the higher temperature doesn't at least make it all go the same direction at the same time, rather than a mixture of cold & warm pipework receiving cooler air.

 

I wonder, do you ever get to any of the several annual organ recitals at Romsey Abbey, just 10 minutes or so up the road? Now there is a real musical instrument in a fine setting! Also soon to be a fine new Harrison at Twyford, just a few minutes further on.

 

The Turner Sims can do so much more that other venues can't, like host poets and authors and comedians and chamber groups; we already have so many very badly supported organ music events in the area by some really excellent instruments & players. Surely it is better to seek out and support these, than worry unduly about a not particularly exceptional instrument in a not particularly exceptional setting (for organ music, at any rate)!

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I was an undergraduate at Southampton when the Collins went in and I don't remember it having too many problems then. Peter Hurford came to perform along with Margaret Philips, Piet Kee etc. and under the regime then it was much used as a solo recital instrument and with orchestral and choral groups. It was a good instrument to learn on - reasonable tracker jobs were rarer then - certainly as one who had been used to electropneumatics up till then it did my technique some good and allowed access to sounds not possible at the local parish church.

 

AJJ

 

The apocryphal story that I heard about the opening recital (was it Neary?) was that Peter Collins had to whip out a ladder half way through and go sort out some tuning and stuck notes...

 

I used to play this organ quite a lot (I worked about 25 feet away from it!), and really didn't like it.

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The apocryphal story that I heard about the opening recital (was it Neary?) was that Peter Collins had to whip out a ladder half way through and go sort out some tuning and stuck notes...

 

I used to play this organ quite a lot (I worked about 25 feet away from it!), and really didn't like it.

 

It was Piet Kee and you are possibly right - I was there and vaguely remember something needing sorting. It was never a great instrument but for 'us students' it was miles better than we were used to.

 

AJJ

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It was Piet Kee and you are possibly right - I was there and vaguely remember something needing sorting. It was never a great instrument but for 'us students' it was miles better than we were used to.

 

AJJ

 

True - an organ is better than no organ! And, to be fair, a 3 manual tracker is a good learning beast.

 

These days it's quite hard to get on it - at least it was when I was working at the Uni. Things may have changed in the last few years.

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
The apocryphal story that I heard about the opening recital (was it Neary?) was that Peter Collins had to whip out a ladder half way through and go sort out some tuning and stuck notes...

 

 

Funny that. Maybe that story isn't entirely a myth!

 

About a year ago I gave the re-opening recital on a fine 2-manual Lewis (St.Oswald's Malpas, Cheshire) that Peter Collins and his men had just refurbished at considerable expense. In order for the organ to make it through the programme, Peter Collins had to lie on the great pasageboard for the whole evening in order to put off middle G on the Great every time it stuck. I wouldn't mind, but I had predicted this fault, based on an earlier practice session.

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Funny that.  Maybe that story isn't entirely a myth!

 

About a year ago I gave the re-opening recital on a fine 2-manual Lewis (St.Oswald's Malpas, Cheshire) that Peter Collins and his men had just refurbished at considerable expense.  In order for the organ to make it through the programme, Peter Collins had to lie on the great pasageboard for the whole evening in order to put off middle G on the Great every time it stuck.  I wouldn't mind, but I had predicted this fault, based on an earlier practice session.

 

That doesn't really inspire confidence! Yes, you expect a few teething problems when putting in a new or newly refurbished organ, but you also expect the problems to be easily rightable - if you'd predicted the failure, I would expect it to be rectified by the time you come to do your recital.

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I too, was an undergradute at Southampton and gave a lunchtime recital on it one day. I actually quite liked it at the time but I always felt it fell flat on its face in a full hall, where what little reverberation disappeared and the tuning went awry. It then became harsh and nasty. I also never found registrations based on flutes and mixtures were particularly attractive on that organ but some people felt compelled to use them, but I find this - both registrations and use of - on nearly all organs.

 

However, that quarter of Southampton is poorly served for organs. Yes, there's St Marys in the city centre, but as ajt knows, it's in a deplorable state. But I can't think of a good tracker action organ of any consequence in Southampton. So TSCH organ stands out like a beacon. I know the university were thinking about working with a parish church to improve their facilities - including a better organ - but I am not sure where this got to.

 

To sum up, I found the Collins organ had a lot of colour and interest after the really very mediocre organs in the area. I found its design, its colour and concept a refreshing and inspiring influence. I had no other organs to try out sesquialtera solos, brustwerks, Werkprinzip approach, balenced choruses and independant pedals and was very grateful for the TSCH organ. It is a landmark organ in the area and I think that reflects as much on the organs in the immediate vicinity as the quality of that organ.

 

However, I can quite understand the frustration of the management at the TSCH about the organ. It doesn't allow the full repertoire; it is unreliable and unpreposessesing in a full hall. But it is also of a period and a piece of that hall. What to do with it is a difficult questions and I wouldn't jump to conclusions. It is an unfashionable organ at present and I can understand the desire for something more romantic on one level with a swell box. But there are plenty of crap organs like that around, as many of surrounding church organs in that area would show...

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Just better mention - the crap organs I mention excludes the organ of St Mary's, South Stoneham in Southampton - a single manual Walker of 1858 in a west gallery. A little gem.

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Oh, tonally, possibly revoice it a little and maybe remake some of the weirder reeds, but fundamentally of course leave it alone! All these things are important whatever we think of them and, as you say, of a period and school that deserves preservation. It just needs rebuilding with new actions & soundboards with the sort of disposition you find at the RFH or Clifton Cathedral, kept as far as possible at similar heights so the tuning doesn't go so wayward. Then, it will be useable - which is the main thing.

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However, that quarter of Southampton is poorly served for organs. Yes, there's St Marys in the city centre, but as ajt knows, it's in a deplorable state. But I can't think of a good tracker action organ of any consequence in Southampton.

 

You still not a fan of Peartree then, or just haven't found the finger strength yet? :P Which reminds me - good luck with this Saturday's recital. My own concert is cancelled, so I might come along...

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You still not a fan of Peartree then, or just haven't found the finger strength yet?  :P Which reminds me - good luck with this Saturday's recital. My own concert is cancelled, so I might come along...

I did say "in that quarter of Southampton"... trying to exclude Peartree, which, on the other side of river might as be in another country to a student without wheels. I'm in training for playing Peartree on Saturday: I've got those hand strengthener things and practicing breaking blocks of concrete with my bare hands to get the amount of concentrated force right.... Mind you, Twyford was heavier and so vague most people thought it was bad e-p action...

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Just better mention - the crap organs I mention excludes the organ of St Mary's, South Stoneham in Southampton - a single manual Walker of 1858 in a west gallery. A little gem.

 

'Used to sing and play there too - the present incumbent is an ex Southampton Music graduate as well.

 

AJJ

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Oh, tonally, possibly revoice it a little and maybe remake some of the weirder reeds, but fundamentally of course leave it alone!  All these things are important whatever we think of them and, as you say, of a period and school that deserves preservation.  It just needs rebuilding with new actions & soundboards with the sort of disposition you find at the RFH or Clifton Cathedral, kept as far as possible at similar heights so the tuning doesn't go so wayward.  Then, it will be useable - which is the main thing.

I think you're rather stuck with the basic layout of that organ. It's pretty tightly packed and it takes up really quite tiny floorspace for that size of organ.

 

I've never been fond of the vox humana beeping in my face, though.

 

Haven't played it for ages and to be honest, I haven't felt like hearing it or playing it unless I'm invited to it. Didn't go to the JSW concert - from what I heard, it was very long and arduous for the audience.

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'Used to sing and play there too - the present incumbent is an ex Southampton Music graduate as well.

 

AJJ

 

Gary Philbrick? Ah, yes, I know Gary well. Excellent chap. I think Gary has graduted from most places, judging by his magnificient collection of hoods....

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I'm in training for playing Peartree on Saturday: I've got those hand strengthener things and practicing breaking blocks of concrete with my bare hands to get the amount of concentrated force right.... Mind you, Twyford was heavier and so vague most people thought it was bad e-p action...

 

Classic! What are you playing?

 

My rock climbing was at its best when I was at Peartree - might have something to do with the finger training, might have something to do with being a bit lighter...

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Whatever one thinks of the TS Collins I think it should be kept in mind that Prof. Peter Evans who was largely responsible for its presence was, to a vast number of students an inspirational figure. His reasons for getting the organ were to provide the University with the best they could aquire then. As an FRCO (and also a fine player!) he knew his stuff and was always quietly proud of what he achieved in having the organ installed and in what students then made of it. As has been noted above - some of us then found it a revelation. Looking at it now one can have other views but it is important to look at it's place not only as it is now but how it was then.

 

AJJ

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What are you playing?

 

My rock climbing was at its best when I was at Peartree - might have something to do with the finger training, might have something to do with being a bit lighter...

 

Franck's Cantabile. So nothing long, loud or fast... if I remember, I needed about 5 pints to play Widor's toccata on it - can't do it sober.

 

reasons for getting the organ were to provide the University with the best they could aquire then. As an FRCO (and also a fine player!) he knew his stuff and was always quietly proud of what he achieved in having the organ installed and in what students then made of it. As has been noted above - some of us then found it a revelation.

 

I agree: I think the TSCH organ does have something to say and in the final balence, I am a supporter of that organ. It gives many players a revelation - whether or not they like it - and an opportunity to experience things they may not have experienced before, like a proper Werkprinzip organ. You have to travel far to find something similar - and most wouldn't bother to make the effort.

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What you describe seems to me to be clearly more of a problem with the air conditioning in the hall rather than the organ itself!

 

Are there ANY Werkprinzip organs which stay in tune when the heating is on? Never heard any myself, and they're two a penny here. There was a time, however, when an organ HAD to be WP in order to be respectable, so citing the RFH isn't really very helpful, it's a totally different kettle of fish!

 

Don't knock Peter Collins too hard, he was a voice in the English wilderness at one time and did things that no-one else at the time was really thinking of! Time has passed him by, which is something that can be said of most European builders at that time too - the big firms (Rieger, Klais, Marcussen) have been able to reinvent themselves, the others (Ott, Kleucker) have gone the way of all flesh. The organs are there, often they don't work very well, they sound ghastly - and they have problems with the heating.

 

Incidentally, organs are voiced in empty rooms. Quite a lot of them don't sound very good when the hall is full, especially if its pretty lousy anyway. Not a lot that can be done about it!

 

:o

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Don't knock Peter Collins too hard, he was a voice in the English wilderness at one time and did things that no-one else at the time was really thinking of!

;)

 

After several years silence at the Turner Sims - there is to be an organ recital - to celebrate the 30th anniversary! :P

 

Sunday 7th October 7:30 Stephen Cleobury; Sei gegrusset variations, B-A-C-H and more - a great night out to hear this landmark organ again! :P:lol::P

 

Turner Sims concert hall

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That doesn't really inspire confidence! ....

No it doesn't, does it? With Peter Collins currently rebuilding one of his own instruments (a not very old 2-manual 7 stop organ) for part of the University of Bristol I hope he will make a good job of the rebuild, the new case and the three new stops going into it.

 

Dave

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