WOA representatives have just returned from OrganFest 2017 – a joint RCO/IAO/BIOS event, this year organized primarily by the IAO. The organ in the City Hall (originally Foster & Andrews 1911, then Compton 1951, & Rushworth 1991) proved to be a large and very powerful instrument.
The event began on Friday evening with a version of ‘Desert Island Discs’: Gordon Stewart interviewing the BBC’s Huw Edwards (who is an amateur organist, passionate about the need to preserve both organs and the buildings that house them), with the significant difference that the ‘discs’ were played live on the organ by John Scott Whitely, the Festival Adviser.
Then came the more serious half of the opening evening of OrganFest – and it was seriously good. Colin Walsh (Organist Laureate of Lincoln Cathedral) gave a recital of the music in which he principally specializes – French romantic – concluding with the entire Vierne Symphony No 3. His playing was supremely authoritative and the whole recital was compelling.
We in Worcester clearly have a thrilling and important event to look forward to when Colin Walsh gives this year’s Anniversary Recital at our Cathedral – Saturday, October 7th.
The second day of the OrganFest programme began with a recital by Darius Battiwalla of music either composed or habitually played by the Hull-born composer Alfred Hollins, which was followed by an account of the Hull firm of Foster & Andrews.
Andrew McCrea (Deputy Director of the RCO and a member of WOA) gave a very full and insightful presentation about the life in music of Francis Jackson, leading into a particular account of his works for organ, illustrated at the console by Colin Wright & John Scott Whiteley. It was a special pleasure to see Dr Jackson himself arriving at the start of the morning, and Andrew very properly soon diverted the applause in his direction: the event ended with a prolonged standing ovation in Dr Jackson's honour - after which he very kindly and patiently posed for photographs and remained with us for the rest of the day.
The afternoon began with a fascinating talk from John Scott Whitely (again illustrated at the organ, this time by Robert Poyser), both scholarly and witty, about Bach's Orgelbüchlein - his theory as to why Bach left it incomplete was admittedly speculative but more convincing than the alternative ideas that are sometimes floated. The session ended with a performance of pieces from the (modern) Orgelbüchlein Project, ending appropriately with the piece by Francis Jackson.
Alan Thurlow chaired a discussion with three rising young organists on that most important topic of how best to initiate and foster interest in the organ today among young people. Two of them played pieces of their choice, demonstrating highly professional competence.
The OrganFest ended with a recital by the famous Kevin Bowyer, notable for the individuality of the programme as for the brilliance of the performance: a version of BWV 532 as Bach might have allowed it to be played had he known the organ in question and had he wished to show the instrument’s character was followed by a series of works by composers not generally featuring on the same programme as Bach. Dr Bowyer included two pieces that particularly demonstrated the theatre-organ ranks on the City Hall organ. The whole recital made a festive end and drew prolonged applause.