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S_L

Proms 2019

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1 hour ago, Zimbelstern said:

I would contend that, given the right organ and the right acoustic, this is refuted by the first page (notably bars 5 and 11) of the Final of Vierne’s Third Symphony alone. 

That is a marvellous work, and the point you make was perfectly captured in a brilliant LP recorded by Arthur Wills at Ely - I’m not sure in which of the organ’s incarnations - but surely one of the best performances of French music on an English organ.

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Like others here, I'm just as stumped as to why the organ doesn't press the buttons of the concert-going public in Britain.  If the various very cogent reasons proposed are to explain it, why do they not seem to apply as strongly in other countries where the organ attracts a greater following (a phenomenon also remarked on above)?  I realise this question has been posed several times before on this forum, but the dichotomy has existed for most of my remembered lifetime and I have no explanation for it.

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1 hour ago, Colin Pykett said:

Like others here, I'm just as stumped as to why the organ doesn't press the buttons of the concert-going public in Britain.  If the various very cogent reasons proposed are to explain it, why do they not seem to apply in other countries where the organ attracts a greater following (a phenomenon also remarked on above)? 

In the case of Germany, I'm pretty sure that it's because they are very aware of their fine musical heritage and take music education much more seriously than we ever have. I think it must be "in their bones". I may have told this story before, but many years ago I went to Aachen to play harpsichord continuo along with other English musicians in Bach's St John Passion. The harpsichord was borrowed from the local Gymnasium. It was languishing in a cupboard there as the school had never used it.  It had been provided when the school was built not many years previously because the government (or whoever) thought it was the sort of thing a school should have. They  hoicked it across the road to the church and set it up for the rehearsal. Apart from one note it was perfectly in tune, yet they swore they hadn't tuned it. Can you imagine that happening in Britain?

I have no idea about anywhere else.

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5 hours ago, Vox Humana said:

In the case of Germany, I'm pretty sure that it's because they are very aware of their fine musical heritage and take music education much more seriously than we ever have. I think it must be "in their bones". 

......

I have no idea about anywhere else.

That has to be true of course.  It probably applies to the Netherlands as well.  I guess I'm pretty much as well travelled as most though, if only because of my former job shoving me all over the place, and the phenomenon (of apparently greater awareness of and interest in the organ beyond the UK) seems quite widespread in my nevertheless finite experience.

France - well, presumably it has to do with its organs and their music in the later 19th century as much as anything else, but surely there was a similar situation over here at that time, though probably for different reasons?  Then, the organ was tremendously popular - Alfred Hollins in his autobiography refers to congregations of hundreds or even thousands at churches (mainly non-Conformist ones and the Kirk it would seem) who would listen raptly to his playing at quite ordinary services, let alone his recitals.  Plus of course other players like Best performing on organs just as famous (like their builders) as the contemporary French ones.  So why isn't there more residual evidence of this today in Britain when there apparently is in France, judging by the attendances they get at their recitals, at least the major ones? 

Then dear old Italy, where everything is so much more laid back and informal!  I've observed people, many of whom are young, attracted in their droves off the street by the sound of an organ being played.  They stand there for a while (because there aren't any vacant seats) before casually leaving again.  Nobody notices or seems to mind, including the player.  The place is continually heaving and in motion.  (It's the same at their church services, even at cathedrals).  I just love this relaxed attitude, so different to stuffy old UK!

North America, especially the USA - I suppose the greater involvement of the population with the church still exerts a strong influence there which is beneficial to the organ, even though the effect is said to be somewhat on the wane now.

And so on.

So maybe there just isn't a simple answer to the question, but instead several different answers which apply to the various countries one considers.

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I have absolutely no evidence to support this, but in my opinion the answer is quite simple: education.

I was lucky.  My interest in the organ began (I think) at junior school at a Christmas church service, in which one of our own teachers played the organ.  Presumably, the regular organist was unavailable.

I was even more lucky at grammar school where our music master was the local cathedral organist, so we received more than our fair share of organ music.

Unfortunately, I believe that most schools in those days did not take much interest in the organ and, moreover, I suspect there is even less today.

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The editor of BBC Music Magazine is an organist and enthusiast, so it doesn't do too badly in there.

Paul

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There are multiple answers to this. It isn't simple.

You can lay the problem at the door of Education. We all, I suspect, have recollections of school Carol Services where the Music teacher, or whatever he was called, played the organ or was the organist of the local church/cathedral. At my school it was my Maths teacher who was an ARCO! Nowadays the pressures on teachers make it almost impossible for them to hold positions of responsibility in schools and run the music in the local church. Unless, of course, they don't have family commitments. The post of Master of the Music in a cathedral is, likewise, far more outreaching than ever before. Music education has changed dramatically and it could be argued for better or worse, but youngsters today are exposed to a much broader spectrum of music than ever before. (I was taught, in my first three years, at school by an excellent musician, a graduate of the RCM and a wonderful pianist - who was the most awful teacher!) It isn't satisfactory anymore to play youngsters music and expect them to sit listening passively whilst you tell them how wonderful it is!! Thank goodness! 

I suspect more youngsters are learning to play a musical instrument than ever before. Certainly those of us who examine are finding our tours increasing in length to cope with the number of students taking examinations. In general students aren't taking to the organ and, again, there are reasons for this. Practice is an issue, getting an access to an instrument is an issue and the youngsters safety is an issue. Nowadays churches are, quite often locked! I can remember a time when the church was open, you got the organ key from the Verger who was always around and practised. These days have largely gone! The 'public schools' are producing organists because access to instruments isn't always the issue but a student in a state school wanting to practice has too many hoops to jump through! In general, youngsters aren't joining Parish church choirs. Now we have had this discussion before and members here know that I believe that you can sell anything to youngsters as long as it is seen to be high quality and 'cool'. But church choirs are, again in general, going through a tough time compared to 20, 30 or 50 years ago and so many organists started off as trebles, altos, tenors/basses and general assistant dogsbody to the organist, being given the opportunity to occasionally play and it progressed from there. Generally there isn't that opportunity, at least it exists in few places, for aspiring young players to learn the instrument, let alone find somewhere to practice.

Another view, and I make no apology for saying this, is that 'the organist' is often regarded with suspicion! Too much publicity, in the press, of organists (and clergy!) who 'have strayed' away from acceptable behaviour, doesn't help the cause. And I will say no more on this subject.

There was a time when 'the great classics' (whatever they are) could be heard, regularly and cheaply, being played on the organ and we know that people flocked to St. George's Hall in Liverpool to hear Best playing 'orchestral transcriptions'. Nowadays, of course, we can hear these played live, in their original form, or on the radio, CD, I-player or whatever! Latry's 'Prom' yesterday seemingly was a 'nod' to those days.

You can't compare the UK with France, for instance. There might be great organists in Paris and in some of the major cathedrals but parish church organs barely exist and the standard of music, not only in some of the Cathedrals but also in the parish churches is pretty abysmal! Germany may be a different matter. But the French do go to organ recitals and concerts, particularly in the summer, are in profusion in Paris and in the provinces too!  

I could go on and on! I don't know the answer, I don't know if there is one! 

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As I recall, this discussion was originally about attendances at organ recitals. Most organ recitals are held in places of worship, and attendance is subject to the organisers reaching those who may be interested in listening to organ music and convincing them that the experience will be worthwhile. 

Since the vast majority of the population do not have any idea what a pipe organ is, they are unlikely to want to attend an organ recital. Outside the hardcore devotees there has to be some special factor which will persuade them to attend. One of those factors can be the local community’s relationship with their local parish church, even if they are not regular worshippers.

Spain is a case in point. A few years ago I attended the inauguration of a newly restored baroque organ in the town of Nava del Rey, near Valladolid. The recital was given by one of Spain/s leading organists, Juan de la Rubia. The church was packed to the gills. I would estimate the audience numbered around 1000. The population of Nava del Rey is 2100. Whole families attended. There were even babies in prams! 

https://www.joaquinlois.com/en/reinaugurado-el-organo-de-nava-del-rey/

The situation of organs and organists in Spain is far, far worse than in the UK. Many organs were destroyed during the Civil War, and there must be thousands of old instruments literally rotting in churches across the country. Organists are rarely paid. So how does a church suddenly magic a large audience for an organ recital out of thin air?

The answer, I think, lies in the relationship between the community and the Church in Spain. Whilst there is a continuing anti-clerical tendency amongst a minority of the population, Spanish community and culture are still entwined with religious festivals, processions and fiestas. If the local parish priest wants to promulgate a particular project, he can call upon an army of volunteers to publicise it, largely by word of mouth and the grapevine. (That, incidentally, is why Spanish funerals can be attended by hundreds, even though burials normally take place the day after the deceased passed away).

Attendance at the organ recital in Nava del Rey was probably due as much to civic pride and a sense of obligation as to a love of organ music. Spanish church attendance has fallen substantially in recent decades, but the masses will still turn out for special occasions.

Those ties between the church and the local community still exist in many countries. In Germany, people pay a percentage of their taxes to the Catholic or Lutheran churches unless they opt out. During a recent stay in the Naples region of Italy I was astonished at the reverence still paid to the church by the local community, so much so that many were prepared to attend mass every day during May in honour of the Virgin Mary. 

Those ties used to exist in this country. No longer. Few people in the UK have any idea what a parish priest is, or who he or she is, let alone an organ. Decades of political correctness have indoctrinated the population with the idea that Christianity is a weird cult and that anyone who professes their faith is a threat to society. Indeed, I have heard countless church organists proudly proclaiming that that they are atheists! Talk about biting the hand that feeds you!

Little wonder that when the moment comes, and a church and an organist have organised an organ recital, trying to drum up an audience is like shouting into the wind.

 

 

 

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7 hours ago, S_L said:

There was a time when 'the great classics' (whatever they are) could be heard, regularly and cheaply, being played on the organ and we know that people flocked to St. George's Hall in Liverpool to hear Best playing 'orchestral transcriptions'. Nowadays, of course, we can hear these played live, in their original form, or on the radio, CD, I-player or whatever!

In my city our first Borough Organist, who died in 1899, clocked up over 2,000 pubic recitals, here and there. His successor was so popular that he habitually gave two recitals per week at the city Guildhall (and, in the 1930s, broadcast several from both his church and the Guildhall). But I gather that, even before the war, audiences were falling off. At one point the council decided to abolish his civic post, though the ensuing outcry caused them to relent. But the decline in audiences wasn't just at organ recitals. The audiences at bandstands were also dwindling - and I think this was true around the country.  The whole pattern of public entertainment was changing. Maybe it was because, with the rise of the wireless, television and 78 rpm records, people didn't feel the need to go out so much. Maybe that's another factor to consider. Again it doesn't explain why things are different in other countries - unless the English weather has something to do with it!

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SL hits many nails nicely on the head regarding music in schools in his comments above. Somehow I have arrived at my 40th year of teaching Music in schools and I would agree whole heartedly with much he comments on the subject. The organ as far as the sort of students I teach are concerned is a musical instrument just like any other the only thing being that they can not put it in a case to carry home, practice on anywhere easily accessible or get involved with ‘social’ musical activity that does not involve church work. Furthermore it is hard to escape the fact that some in the so called organ world do themselves no good by cultivating a mystique around the instrument and its music which is largely and mercifully missing elsewhere.  

All the instrumental and tutors where I work have a healthy uptake of students the majority of whom participate in group activities in and out of school as well as ‘doing their own thing’. Moreover the tutors are adaptive to what makes the students ‘tick’ musically and are appreciated for this. If I were their age again I would not in the slightest be attracted for instance to a recent local organ concert performed by a reasonably well known player that consisted of a Vierne Symphonie, some Brahms Chorale Preludes and some lesser titbits etc. However, following a composing workshop with some of the GCSE students many then attended a concert of contemporary pieces by the workshop leader. Incidentally a similar lot sat through a whole opera having spent a day with the singers and producers finding out what they would be hearing etc. They need to be encouraged and to enthused not just somehow blamed for doing what they love and not what others think might be good for them. If a prospective organ student turns up at a local church and hears general musical dullness from someone who has ‘over protective console syndrome’ then they will be likely put off for ever. This happened not long ago to someone I know of at a church with a local reputation for good music making! After all they can also go to a Prom. and hear for example Jess Gillam doing wonders with her Saxophone and hear something that could conceivably set them off to try to do similar.

it is in all our hands whether there are up and coming young players for the future, Latry by all accounts filled the RAH healthily and this is great but it would be interesting to see a breakdown of age etc. for those attending. Likewise it was interesting to see the number on various social media outlets who were upset by this concert being on a Sunday morning re their church commitments. It would also be interesting to see how many in the audience were also church goers.

A

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AJJ - This is not the mutual admiration society - but I agree with every word you wrote!!!

……………………… and particularly about the student who turns up at church and hears general dullness from someone with 'over protective console syndrome'. I could compare that with a composition workshop given by Peter Maxwell Davies, years and years ago. Fairly 'traditional' students left the place buzzing!!!

I'm glad there was a healthy audience for Latry on Sunday morning. I wonder how many of those bemoaning the fact that it was on a Sunday morning when they had 'other commitments', will make their way to Buckfast on Saturday!

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34 minutes ago, S_L said:

I wonder how many of those bemoaning the fact that it was on a Sunday morning when they had 'other commitments', will make their way to Buckfast on Saturday!

Just a heads up.  Anyone thinking of rolling up to this 'on spec' would be well advised to book. The abbey doesn't seat as many as you might think. The nave seats are sold out and tickets are now available only for the quire and transepts - where you won't be able to see the player.
https://www.buckfast.org.uk/music (scroll down for details)

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Sorry to keep dwelling on this point, but there can never have been such riches in terms of numbers of organ recitals (concerts, if you prefer, for lighter programmes).  Including the recital just announced at St Michael and All Angels, Exeter, there are twenty recitals taking place around the country on Wednesday of this week, six of them in cathedrals.  It’s inevitable that weekday lunchtime recitals cannot attract the largest audiences, but many are well-attended.  I have known 600 for Thomas Trotter at Birmingham Town Hall and on one occasion, a couple of years ago, people were actually standing in the top tier of the gallery.  And, to plug the point yet again, publicity is crucial.

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10 hours ago, Rowland Wateridge said:

Sorry to keep dwelling on this point, but there can never have been such riches in terms of numbers of organ recitals

This is absolutely true and when there were complaints concerning lack of organ music at 'The Proms' a couple of years ago I pointed out that, during the 'Proms' season, in London alone, there were over a hundred recitals/concerts of organ music in London alone! Admittedly 'The Proms' are seen as prestigious but there are, still,  plenty of opportunities to hear first class performers playing a wide variety of music on almost every day of the year!

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The Dutch Orgelnieuws website has published a rather detailed analysis of the 1850 organ concerts taking place during the 4-month summer peak. This Saturday, 10th August, will be "Peak Organ", when 52 organ concerts are planned! Annoyingly, due to an ongoing commitment I may not be able to go to the one I really want to, the Willis in Leiden. Ah well. The link is below, Google will give a pretty good translation.

http://www.orgelnieuws.nl/orgelconcerten-bereiken-zomerse-piek-meer-dan-1-850-concerten-in-vier-maanden/

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Like others here unable to go to hear Olivier Latry ‘live’ at the RAH, compensation came today in a wonderful recital by Philippe Lefebrve at Selby Abbey.  I was not the only long-distance traveller there.  

Philippe Lefebrve spoke very movingly about César Franck as the father of the modern French organ school before what I can only describe as a moving and reverential performance of the A minor Choral.  Vierne, Dupré and Duruflé somehow gained a new dimension played on this thoroughly English organ.  The improvisation on two themes from John Scott Whiteley defied my powers of description, but I think the two themes were interposed in a gradual crescendo to a toccata followed by a quiet fugal introduction to a second even more tremendous toccata - altogether twenty minutes.  We were witnessing and hearing a great artist with absolute mastery of the instrument.  

And far from being redundant while the Grand Orgue is unplayable, we were told that the Notre Dame organists would play for the Cathedral’s services being held in other churches - so, whilst not exactly ‘business as normal’, keeping the Notre Dame tradition alive.

 

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On 06/08/2019 at 21:14, Rowland Wateridge said:

Like others here unable to go to hear Olivier Latry ‘live’ at the RAH, compensation came today in a wonderful recital by Philippe Lefebrve at Selby Abbey.  I was not the only long-distance traveller there.  

Philippe Lefebrve spoke very movingly about César Franck as the father of the modern French organ school before what I can only describe as a moving and reverential performance of the A minor Choral.  Vierne, Dupré and Duruflé somehow gained a new dimension played on this thoroughly English organ.  The improvisation on two themes from John Scott Whiteley defied my powers of description, but I think the two themes were interposed in a gradual crescendo to a toccata followed by a quiet fugal introduction to a second even more tremendous toccata - altogether twenty minutes.  We were witnessing and hearing a great artist with absolute mastery of the instrument.  

And far from being redundant while the Grand Orgue is unplayable, we were told that the Notre Dame organists would play for the Cathedral’s services being held in other churches - so, whilst not exactly ‘business as normal’, keeping the Notre Dame tradition alive.

 

This latter point is good to read.

I have had the privilege, on a number of occasions, of being in the tribune at Nötre-Dame de Paris for the three Sunday morning Masses. On two occasions, Léfébvre was on duty. His playing on both days was nothing short of stunning. All of the music was improvised, most effectively, in a variety of styles, and enhanced the liturgy in a most moving manner.

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Although listening from afar, it was good to hear the Albert Hall 'monster' in full voice last night!!

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