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PAUL GOODMAN

Royal Albert Hall Organ

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I have been waiting to say CONGRATULATIONS for a long time, and now thanks to the new discussion board it is possible.

 

Thank you, to all concerned, for the splendid end result, of a long, and I am sure difficult restoration at the RAH. I am convinced that the organ has never sounded as good as it now does, and given it's layout and not exactly flattering acoustic it is fantastic. Looking at the big screen at the re-opening concert it also looks a joy to play, being extremely responsive, something it has not been for many years.

 

My only tiny criticism is that with all the big manual reeds coupled in a grand tutti the 32' Double Ophicleide is a little less prominent than it used to be and could do with loudening (although I understand the pipes are giving as much power as they can.) If you get close up though it is "totally awesome", and as one of the reviewers in a UK newspaper recently commented - the organ is now capable of keeping up with or indeed totally obliterating a full symphony orchestra!!

 

Let us fervently hope that apart from the Prom's season serious music lovers will have more opportunities to hear this great instrument in a SOLO capacity before too long.

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Thank you for the nice first posting, Paul. I hope the discussion board gets good and lively once more.

 

Your "tiny criticism" is well founded and a number of people have made this point. The Double Ophicleide is certainly not softer than it was, but the restored winding and pressures seem to have enhanced the large manual reeds so much that it has rather lost its impact. The improvement in the reeds on the top level is also undoubtedly due in part to the removal of the roof but we suspect that this has actually been detrimental to the 32ft reed in question. It is known that a roof sometimes helps such stops and that may be the case here too.

 

You will be pleased to hear that the RAH is actively considering solo slots for the organ as they have noticed the success of the RFH series and as that will have to cease when the refurbishment of that venue starts it would be sad if the good works achieved by William McVicker were not furthered by some means. I think that there is a really good chance that we will see an upturn in the interest in the pipe organ in general in London over the next few years and about time too. Perhaps it will even lead to an upturn in the interest of the BBC in organ music.

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Please accept my congratulations on the refurbishment, as well. Despite being based in the North West, I made the effort to attend the inaugural concert. It was the first concert I've been to in the RAH so I can't tell you how much the organ has been improved but I can tell you that I was most impressed with the results. If only the organ I play could have a similar make over!

 

It was interesting to hear some last-minute reed tuning taking place as I took my seat in the stalls. Is this something which is undertaken every time the organ is used in concert?

 

I was a little disappointed to observe that there was rather minimal media publicity of the refurbishment around the time of the inaugural concert, but it was good to see that amends were made at the start of the Proms season. It is also very good to see the organ featured in so many Proms concerts.

 

Is anyone aware of any plans to make some recordings on the refurbished instrument?

 

 

 

 

 

PS It's good to have the discussion forum back up - I have a few questions that I have been saving up over the past few months, which I will ask as soon as I get time.

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The last minute tuning was not planned and is not usual. The organ was only just finished and some of the Solo reeds seemed not to want to stay in tune and we discovered at the last minute that the bellows was set a little too high. In lowering the bellows to a normal level, the pressure changed slightly, so that necessitated the re-tuning of all the reeds affected. We did not have enough time to set up the tuning keyboard we have inside the organ, so we had to relay the instructions to the person on the console which caused a little amusement in the audience I gather. I would not have known. I was the one doing the tuning!

 

There are plans for Gillian Weir to make a recording on the organ, but nothing is finalised yet. Fear not, it will happen.

 

John Pike Mander

 

PS. We look forward to your stored up questions.

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Guest Guest

It really is wonderful to have the Voice of Jupiter back in magnificent full voice - my congratulations, too, to Mander Organs on an heroic achievement.

 

I have had the pleasure of hearing the restored instrument at the opening recital, in several Prom concerts and, most memorably of all, on a private visit in an empty hall in the early hours of the morning a couple of weeks ago.

 

Most remarkable, perhaps, is the astonishing clarity of the ensemble. Heard from the front row of the circle, John Scott's use of 8 foot plus Twelfth in the Samuel Barber Concerto had knife-edge precision, for example. One looks forward to hearing a Bach Prelude & Fugue before too long.

 

On that note let's hope we get to hear some rather more mainstream organ music soon - Hakim and Messiaen played ffff are all very well, but the contrast with the rather more subtle musical delights of Strauss and Dvorak by the London Winds on Monday night may have left members of the audience with the unfortunate conclusion that a lot of organ music is noise for noise's sake. Maybe a little Franck, Saint-Saens or Vierne would have won the instrument more new friends.

 

And, finally, an appeal to the RAH authorities to raise or remove the orchestral canopy when ever the organ is heard on its own - it creates a most unfortunate acoustic black hole for those listening in the arena!

 

JS

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Now that the new Bulletin Board is up and running, I too would like to add my congratulations on the refurbishment of the RAH organ, having had the pleasure of attending all 3 concerts on the inaugural weekend. The only time I had previously heard the organ being played live was at a Classical Spectacular in November 2003, only a few weeks before it was closed for the refurbishment, and the difference between then and now is just amazing. I fully expected to be impressed at the opening concerts but the experience far exceeded my expectations. It was superb!

 

I have since heard the organ on many of the Proms. concerts broadcast on Radio 3 although, presumably due to the way the mics. are set up, it doesn't seem to make its presence felt, on radio, over the sound of an orchestra, the way it does when one is actually present in the Hall.

 

I definitely plan to visit London and the RAH again soon to hear the organ live again!

 

Once again, congratulations on a marvellous job.

 

Dave Mills

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First of all may I say it is great to have the discussion board back online. :D

 

I have not yet managed to hear the RAH organ in the flesh since it was reopened in June this year, and intend to put that right as soon as possible. However, I did hear it on BBC Radio 3 in a Prom performance of Janacek's Glagolitic Mass where David Goode was the soloist. Taking into account problems with microphone placings et al, I was neverthess bowled over by what I heard. :blink: The Royal Albert Hall organ I have grown up with, and played a couple of times, was a wheezy old beast. Now, there is more than enough wind to produce a genuine attack to the playing, which is very welcome.

 

I do have one question. Although the organ has been fully restored, the case and pipe rack have not. Are there plans, and funds, for this work to be carried out, and if so, what will the pipes look like afterwards? I seem to remember seeing a painting of the hall where the organ pipes were gold. Is this fanciful?

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The casework is going to be redecorated at some point in the New Year, but the decision has been taken not to polish the pipes. The point seems to be that for many things which go on in the hall, the organ is of no consequence and the fear (apparently) is that by polishing the pipes, they will be too much of an attraction. I have a secret hope that when the casework has been redecorated the pipes will cry out for some attention. The pipes have never been anything but natural. The fronts of them are of a high percentage tin and must have been very bright at some point, but they were never gold in colour.

 

John Pike Mander

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Presumably the powers-that-be who believe the organ is of no consequence and that polished pipes would be too much of an attraction at non-organ events share a mindset with Ros Rigby, one of the artistic directors of the new Sage concert hall in Gateshead, who was quoted in this week's Sunday Times as follows:

 

'One of the reasons we haven't put an organ in this hall is that the message it gives out to other forms of music is that they're second rate. so, when we open, we won't have an organ. Goodness knows whether we'll get one later.'

 

And goodness knows how they compute that one. I suppose it could be taken as a compliment to the magnetic attraction of the organ, but I would have thought other forms of music would have had enough confidence to stand up for themselves. There is always the possibility of shutters, if organ pipes are really such a distraction (not in the RAH, obviously, but in Gateshead!) And I never heard any reports of concerts in Symphony Hall, Birmingham suffering from the audience's attention being drawn to the silent facade organ pipes for ten years before the instrument was installed behind them!

 

Clare Stevens

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Guest Barry Oakley

I am one of those who have not heard live the newly refurbished RAH organ. From what I have heard via a good radio hi-fi system, Manders have certainly done an excellent piece of work. It now admirably makes its presence known when played alongside a large symphony orchestra, something which a good concert organ should be capable of.

 

The quite ridiculous comment about organ pipes becoming a distracting element in concert halls must have been the last consideration of Henry Willis III when in 1932 the organ in Sheffield City Hall was completed. Instead of a facade of decorative pipes, an equally most eye-catching and arguably distracting wrought iron screen was erected instead, and is still there to this day.

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I am afraid this mindset (not wanting the organ to be visible) is all too prevalent. It is interesting to be reminded that it is not necessarily a new one as well with the Sheffield Town Hall instrument. We have been invited to do a couple of proposals for new concert hall organs where the brief has been that the organ should not look like an organ. The reasoning is that an organ is associated too much with church and that might be offensive to non-Christians. What people seem not to realise is that placing the organ behind some sort of screen or artwork strips it of the tonal attributes of principal pipes in the façade. I suppose that is the reasoning behind the design of the new organ for the Disney Hall in California, although the result is probably more eye-catching than a more conventional organ would have been.

 

John Pike Mander

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On my side, I wouldn't have imagined something like the organ in Disney hall / Los Angeles, but I like very much the design, which really surprised me.

 

This is something really looking at the same time new and modern, but also primitive.

 

To some extend, isn't it the representation of the condition of human beings, perpetually stuck between primitive instincts of the original jungle (that is what evocates, for me, this forest of pipes) and an explosion in direction of modernity (beautifully expressed by the curvature of all these big pipes, I just hope they used a proper and durable glue !!!!!!).

 

Ok, I stop there the philosophy, but I like the visual result very much.

 

But, on the other hand, it cannot really be a new way : it has been done once, and that's it !

 

In echo to Mr Mander, forced to submit projects of organs hidden behind something (I know tha a company has to live, and refusing to bid cnnot be a long or even medium term choice), things should look what they really are, instead of always fearing to offense somebody ! A little bit of open mind and tolerance can do the remaining !

 

All the builders, architects, etc... of the XXst century, insisted on the fact that there should be a strong link between function and the aspect. So, organs should look like organs.

 

Concerning the RAH façade, I had the chance, 10 years before, to listen to a concert given in the RAH (all the music schools from Sussex, and a really passionating moment, including even the smallest kids, butno organ).

 

I found the had acquired a kind of dark reflect you can sometime see on high tin content façades.

 

Maybe it is better just to keep it as it is, as I this dark reflect is rather warm and nice.

 

Wouldn't b a treatment to have these pipes back to a polished and shiny condition too aggressive ? It would certainly mean removing at least a thin layer of metal (but I guess these pipes are certainly vert thick ?)

 

PFB

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For those of you able to get to it, there is a Royal Albert Hall Organ Restoration Workshop this Saturday. Doors open at 9:00am and cost of a ticket is £12 including light refreshments. There will be two short talks about the work and a demonstration of the organ.

 

John Pike Mander

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Guest Roffensis

Is that really all that the RAH organ comes down to? power, and also being able to "obliterate" a full Symphony Orchestra? It is exactly this mentality that caused such a backlash in the 60s with the reform movement. Boring!!!!! Give me a carefully balanced Organ anyday, Chichester Cathedral is far more exciting to hear, it wont blast you, but it wont tire you either. The RAH is a bad example of a nasty Victorian Organ being restored to an even nastier overblown 1926 spec, while poor old Alerxandra Palace, ever regarded as superior to RAH, remains half finished, and badly at that. I often think the world is going mad, we really need a 150 inch Voix Celestes don't we!?

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