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Interview with the Builder of the Sydney Opera House Organ


Niccolo
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I recently came across an interesting interview with the organ builder Ron Sharp, who's best known for building the organ of the Sydney Opera House.

To confess I did find the interview at the start a little jarring, as Ron Sharp is quite frail and their was also budgie or something that wouldn't stop making noises. But I did find some of his opinions during the second half quite interesting, as I think his attitudes on things like acoustic reverberation and the balance between bass and treble notes, are quite different to what most people think.

 

Organs by Ron Sharp

Sydney Opera House

http://www.ohta.org.au/confs/Sydney/GRANDORGAN.html

Knox Grammer School Chapel

https://sydneyorgan.com/Knox.html

Perth Concert Hall

http://www.ohta.org.au/organs/organs/PerthConcertHall.html

St Mary's Catholic Cathedral

Chancel Triforium

http://www.ohta.org.au/confs/Sydney/STMARYSCATHEDRAL.html#S

 

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An interesting post, thank you.  A personal memory, not dealing with the technical matters you mention.

The 1979 inaugural recital of the Ronald Sharp organ in Sydney Opera House by Michael Dudman was broadcast live from Australia by the BBC (I seem to recall this involved staying up to a late hour), and I recorded it on tape.  It resulted in a waspish letter from Cecil Clutton in ‘Organists Review’ criticising both the organ and the performance with a somewhat cheap jibe about Michael Dudman being well-named.  As I recall, among other things he particularly objected to a cadenza added to the Passacaglia in C minor.  The next issue of OR contained a firm rebuttal to Clutton from Christopher Dearnley “You got it wrong, Sam!”, adding that this was a magnificent organ!  

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On 20/01/2021 at 13:27, Rowland Wateridge said:

He particularly objected to a cadenza added to the Passacaglia in C minor

At the risk of stirring a hornet's nest ... surely, the Neopolitan chord at bar 285 cries out for a cadenza.

Ian

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On 20/01/2021 at 13:27, Rowland Wateridge said:

An interesting post, thank you.  A personal memory, not dealing with the technical matters you mention.

The 1979 inaugural recital of the Ronald Sharp organ in Sydney Opera House by Michael Dudman was broadcast live from Australia by the BBC (I seem to recall this involved staying up to a late hour), and I recorded it on tape.  It resulted in a waspish letter from Cecil Clutton in ‘Organists Review’ criticising both the organ and the performance with a somewhat cheap jibe about Michael Dudman being well-named.  As I recall, among other things he particularly objected to a cadenza added to the Passacaglia in C minor.  The next issue of OR contained a firm rebuttal to Clutton from Christopher Dearnley “You got it wrong, Sam!”, adding that this was a magnificent organ!  

If I could take one CD with me to my desert island it would be Michael Dudman's recording of the organ at Sydney Opera House. Quite aside from the variety of pieces and enormous tonal variation of the organ, the piece de resistance is surely his breathtaking performance of the Passacaglia and Fugue. Just when you reach what you always thought was the climax of the figure, the famous Neapolitan Sixth, along comes almost half a minute of what I guess was Dudman's own cadenza, before resuming again à la Bach. It isn't Bach, it is completely unexpected, and it isn't going to be to everyone's taste. But put aside those objections and you have a stunning and completely unexpected twist to Bach's masterpiece. I presume that was what Cecil Clutton objected to. I certainly don't and think it's magnificent (the cadenza, as well as the organ).

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On 20/01/2021 at 13:27, Rowland Wateridge said:

An interesting post, thank you.  A personal memory, not dealing with the technical matters you mention.

The 1979 inaugural recital of the Ronald Sharp organ in Sydney Opera House by Michael Dudman was broadcast live from Australia by the BBC (I seem to recall this involved staying up to a late hour), and I recorded it on tape.  It resulted in a waspish letter from Cecil Clutton in ‘Organists Review’ criticising both the organ and the performance with a somewhat cheap jibe about Michael Dudman being well-named.  As I recall, among other things he particularly objected to a cadenza added to the Passacaglia in C minor.  The next issue of OR contained a firm rebuttal to Clutton from Christopher Dearnley “You got it wrong, Sam!”, adding that this was a magnificent organ!  

I wonder, Rowland, if this is the letter I remember reading by Christopher Dearnley... I think someone had previously criticised the review perhaps speaking of 'spilt milk' but CHD followed up wondering if it 'tasted more of sour grapes.' Something along those lines... but it may have been about a different scenario.

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I don’t remember anything said by Christopher Dearnley on those lines.  His response was a gentle and good-humoured rebuke “You got it wrong, Sam!”.  Incidentally, until then I had never heard Cecil Clutton referred to as ‘Sam’ - this was 1979.

There was separate correspondence in the OR around the same time from the organbuilder Richard Boston,   questioning the use of pipework by Stinkens in an Australian organ!  Boston, like Clutton, was a person who spoke his mind and wrote forcefully, but I don’t recall a response to his letter.

Looking back now, it seems a remarkable thing for the BBC to have relayed a live transmission of the inaugural recital from Australia.  Would that happen in present times, I wonder?

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