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Rah Organ Facade Pipes


contraviolone

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I am also disappointed to learn that the facade pipes are not going to be restored. In recent years, the auditorium has been beautifully restored, including the reinstatement of a decorative plaster cove which had been removed about 60 years previously and, following the stirling work by Mander Organs, the organ now sounds absolutely magnificent, both as a solo instrument and when accompanying an orchestra.

 

In view of all that, it seems a great shame, now that the organ case is going to be restored, to stop short of restoring the facade pipes, which would be the icing on the cake.

 

I cannot agree with the reason, given in the "Royal Albert Hall, CONGRATULATIONS" thread, that the pipes, if polished, would be too much of an attraction during events where the organ is of no consequence. If I am at an event in the Royal Albert Hall, I'll look at the organ if I want to whatever state the pipes are in, and if I don't want to then I wont! If the event is sufficiently interesting or enjoyable, I shan't be distracted by polished organ pipes!

 

I think that the present appearance of the pipes detracts from what is now a wonderful instrument and, in events where the organ is not in use, the appearance is the only impression the audience gets. The appearance of the unrestored pipes is more likely to distract me during an event, since I would be thinking of what they could have looked like.

 

I echo Mark Wimpress's hopes that those who made the decision will think again, so that the restoration of the hall can be truly finished.

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I suspect the opportunity has been missed to 'restore' the physical appearance of the front display pipes, because their removal might deposit a layer of dust inside the newly restored organ, which would be self-defeating. The next opportunity may not be until the organ is next due to be cleaned, which might be 20 years down the road.

 

Also bear in mind the large amount of scaffolding that would need to be put up and the equipment necessary to remove the big 32ft pipes and the dirsruption to the hall's events. And there is the fact that those pipes would be out of use during the restoration, it may be necessary to cover the rest of the organ to protect it from dust, and then, of course, there is the cost. A large number of choir seats might be out of commission, affecting audiences and performing choirs.

 

Given that there was a point when it looked as though the funds for a full organ restoration may not have been available, which would have left part of the instrument silent, I think the right decision was made on mechanical and tonal restoration as the main priority.

 

I must admit, that I never thought the pipes had been painted, but were that colour because of the composition of the metal. It never occurred to me that a layer of grime might have changed the colour.

 

However, I think that the relatively dull appearance of them has certain advantages. They do not harshly reflect coloured and white light, which would cause a real distraction to audiences and performers. Instead, they give back a rather warm, difused and mellow reflection. They pick up blues beautifully and other special lighting effects. If the front was of highly polished and burnished tin, you would see direct reflections of lighting instruments, the angle and severity of which would vary on what lights were being used and whereabouts in the hall you were sitting. It would probably be a real problem for TV cameras in certain events, such as sporting or the Festival of Rememberance and anything that was not a straight orchestral/choral concert or organ recital.

 

And such strong and harsh reflections would be a real headache for lighting designers for non music events, or for things like semi-staged opera, or opera in the round in the arena.

 

In an ideal world, it would have been nice to clean the pipes, although I don't know whether it would have had a great impact on their overall appearance, except at close quarters.

 

Bearing in mind the diversity of events that are staged at the RAH, I think that having a highy polished, burnished array of display pipes would be inappropriate. While it may please a very small few that attend some events at the RAH, I suspect it would actually be an eyesore for the vast majority of RAH audiences. The RAH is no ordinary concert hall venue and the RAH organ is no ordinary concert hall organ. Personally, I think its present appearance is as much a part of the character of the organ as is the sound of the instrument. That is not to say that I would not like to see the cas restored.

 

One other thing to bear in mind, is that English Heritage may have something to say about the RAH organ having burnished front pipes, given that the RAH is a listed building.

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Whether or not the pipes would need to be removed to clean them, I wonder whether cleaning them in situ would not deposit a layer of dust inside the organ, which would be highly undesirable. The scaffolding to restore the casework, I suspect would be much less than if the froint pipes had to be removed, as you would not need the heavy lifting gear, so the disruption to the hall would not be as great.

 

I would be surprised if the metal content allowed for a highly burnished finish. I don't think the tin content can be too high, especially in the larger pipes, otherwise they would collapse. I still think the burnished approach would be inappropriate. Although this approach is widely favoured in modern instruments and usually looks stunning in a church or a modern concert hall, it was not generally a feature of Father Willis organs. The only example of burnished display pipes on a Father Willis I can think of is Blenheim Palace, which is stunning visually and aurally. We are, after all, talking about restoration, not redesign or makeover.

 

I was not suggesting that modern lighting effects are, or should be, used to hide blemishes in the physical appearance of the organ, I was merely pointing out there are a variety of lighting effects that are used in such a multi-functional hall. Highly reflective burninshed organ pipes would make a lighting designer's task even more difficult to light a non concert hall type of event, and the RAH has plenty of them. And the dullness of the pipes as they are now offers what I think are attractive, diffused reflections of colours from various lighting effects. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

 

If the pipes do not have to be removed to be cleaned, then it strikes me that the cost of cleaning them insitu would be much cheaper than if they had to be removed. If that is the case, maybe it would be better to wait a bit longer until the money is there to pay for both the case restoration and pipe cleaning can be done at the same time. Call me a cynic, but I would be really suprised if cleaning them made a huge impact on their overall physical appearance in the hall from anything beyond the front of the stage, although I take your point that some of the pipes inside now look bright, although I've not yet seen them for myself. In contast, the case restoration might make a huge visual impact, especially with all that gold leaf work. And even that might be a headache for some lighting designers.

 

But most of what I write is speculative, so maybe Mr Mander could give us an informed view about what visual impact cleaning the pipes would have and whether cleaning them insitu would deposit dust inside the organ.

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I don't think the last word has been spoken on this matter of the front pipes and I will certainly be trying to get something done about them. There would not be any problem about dirt getting into the organ as everything will be done to ensure it does not and it is correct that the pipes would not have to be removed to clean them.

 

They are in fact of very high percentage tin (90.4%) and could be made very bright. I am sure SOME cleaning will be undertaken, the question at this stage is how much and in what way. Personally, I would like to see them a little brighter and I think most people would as well.

 

John Pike Mander

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Well Mark,

 

May I suggest you never come to Belgium -or you will fall in tears-. If only our problems were such as this one. Of course we do have beautiful organs, some of which in a reasonably good state. But in other places, you could as well find a sandwich from 1960 on a soundboard -no joke, I did. The remains of the thing were packed within a newspaper. Of course the rats were not content with it, halas for the organ-.

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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Yes Mark,

 

You are right stating the Brussel's cathedral Organ is in a good state. It is a recent organ from Gehrard Grenzig, a syntesis of spanish-french and romantic organ.

 

The previous organ was a late romantic 70-stops instrument, 80% of the pipes were from Hyppolite Loret, one of the very best builders Belgium has had. I saw this organ crashing on the floor in order to make place. It was my preffered.

 

I'd prefer have organs in a correct state everywhere than some well polished with a desert round them.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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Well, for the most part, it seems as though I was talking rubbish in this thread. A little knowledge is dangerous. I'm surprised at there being such a high tin content in the facade pipes, especially the 32fts. I thought tin would be too soft, but I guess it's not as soft as lead. Anyway, I still think the highly polished front would look odd in the RAH, but look forward to seeing it when it is all finished. And I'm looking forward to actually hearing the RAH organ next time in England, whenever that will be.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Tin is generally harder than lead, but what is significant is the impurities which were in the mix at that time. All sorts of trace elements are found in such material including copper, silver, antimony, bismuth and even arsenic. We now know that these trace elements make the material a great deal harder and all of the problems that organ builders have been experiencing over the past 50 years with soft metal are now known to be down to the much purer materials with which we have been dealing. Interestingly, the backs of the RAH façade pipes are in fact of something which looks like spotted metal. That was undoubtedly done to save money and not for added strength.

 

John Pike Mander

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Anyone who has visited Blenheim Palace will know that there is a 4 manual Father Willis organ in the Grand Library with a tin front going part way down the 32' octave of the Pedal Contra Violone. The pipes are still very bright considering they have been there since the 1890's. I presume the atmosphere in the room is much cleaner tha RAH and that they may have been cleaned.

 

I think they represent a good colour tone for what could be done at RAH, as they are not glaring in their effect, but look fresh and clean.

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The Blenheim organ does indeed still have the relatively bright finish on the façade pipes, partly because being in the country the air is much cleaner, but mainly due to the lack of nicotine from smoking which has affected the pipes at the RAH over so many years.

 

John Pike Mander

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I would just like to add my voice to the concerns raised about the display pipes at the Royal Albert Hall. I think they should be cleaned and restored, just in the same way that the rest of the Organ (and the auditorium) has been restored as well. I am sure there is no conspiracy afoot, just an unwillingness to go the full way in restoring (and presenting) this superb instrument. At best it does indicate I think a lack of imagination and flair not to restore the pipes. Should we all write in and express this view more formally, perhaps?

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... the display pipes at the Royal Albert Hall. I think they should be cleaned and restored, just in the same way that the rest of the Organ (and the auditorium) has been restored as well. I am sure there is no conspiracy afoot, just an unwillingness to go the full way in restoring (and presenting) this superb instrument. ... Should we all write in and express this view more formally, perhaps?

 

At the time of writing, I gather that it may yet be open to the RAH to opt for "the full way", without losing face or wasting money or doing something that looks like "mission creep". Would people here feel able to write to the organ press, magazines such as The Organists' Review , Choir and Organ and maybe The Organ as well? And, as this is topical, a letter to the Times of London maybe as well?

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Mander Organs has made the point as far as it is able. The decision was made not to clean the pipes at the outset of the project before even money was available to do it. There was concern that polished pipes might detract from non-organ events in the RAH. I think it is a shame and have made my point of view clear to the consultant for the work, but I have no say in the matter at all unfortunately.

 

John Pike Mander

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I did not realise how unfortunate our wide ranging audiences are, at Sydney's Town Hall and Opera House Concert Hall, in being constantly distracted by huge 32 foot organ cases. The Town Hall's spotted metal front was completely cleaned some years ago and the Opera House's burnished 95% tin front is still in pristine condition. Worse, still, the deranged lighting crews at these venues actually feature the organ cases in very impressive effects at all kinds of functions - even Australian Idol.

 

Pity,also, the audiences at the new Los Angeles Disney Concert Hall, where the huge case of "french fries" must be giving them an appetite as they are distracted from whatever it was they came to see or hear.

 

Why there is even discussion on the fate of the RAH facade is cause for grave concern. There is never any discussion about flying lighting bars, or speakers, or screens at these venues. All necessary (they argue) for the event. If the Albert Hall wants to retain their (now largest) concert pipe organ, then the facade pipes are the most expensive and necessary highlight of the package and deserve no less attention than has been lavished on the rest of the hall. I'm sure Father Willis would have made his point today.

 

I hope to read, soon, of an uprising of the same proportions and doggedness that has previously served you so well. If your authorities would like to know how much the "Eye" is distracting me from the peaceful London skyline, I'd be happy to discuss that as well.

 

Mark Fisher

Sydney, Australia

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