SOME PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS OF THE IAO CONGRESS

GLASGOW, 23 – 28 JULY 2007

 

The 2007 Incorporated Association of Organists’ Congress was centred at the NHS Beardmore Hotel and Conference Centre, Clyde Bank, Glasgow. The well appointed hotel was part of a hospital complex although throughout the Congress we saw not a single doctor, nurse, patient or wheel chair. However, the accommodation and overall organisation were in keeping with the continuing high standards of the IAO. Some 160 delegates attended the Congress.

The intensive programme included 13 organ recitals, a master class, a lecture and, finally, a visit to a local distillery. It is Elgar’s 150th anniversary this year and his music featured prominently during the Congress.

 

Monday 23 July. Monday was occupied in completing the drive from a night stop-over in Kendall to the hotel and an enjoyable visit to the Kelvin Grove Art Gallery and Museum to hear a previous president of the IAO, Dame Gillian Weir, play the recently refurbished Lewis organ.

The organ, described as a concert organ of romantic character and one of the foremost instruments of its type in the country, is mounted on the first floor of the refurbished Art Gallery and Museum. Its splendid case and pipes dominate the central area of the Museum.


Dame Gillian swept into the organ loft in a gorgeous blue evening gown, smiled down benignly on the audience below and launched into a sparkling performance of Bach’s Toccata in F major, BWV 540. Although the detail was somewhat blurred by the acoustics of the building the grandeur of the piece was not diminished. This was followed by a Voluntary in D Minor by John Stanley, A Maggot, an intriguing piece by Thomas Arne and Henry Purcell’s Voluntary in D Minor.  The recital also included a memorable performance of Cesar Franck’s Choral in A minor. As expected this was an auspicious start to Congress which augured well for the future programme.

The recital was followed by a reception with the opportunity to enjoy a glass of wine and renew old acquaintances.

 

Tuesday 24 July. This was a busy day. We first visited Paisley Abbey, some 10    miles from Glasgow. The Abbey with its great East Window depicting the ascending Christ is an interesting venue. The Organ, originally built in 1872 by Cavaille-Coll has gone through a number of transitions over the years finally being rebuilt by Walker in 1968.

The ample specification was well demonstrated by Dr George McPhee in a short recital including  Magnificat, ( Plein Jeu, Duo, Bass Trompette, Flutes and Dialogue sur Les Grand Jeux) by Dandrieu, a Messien-like Gaudeamus in Loci Pace by Macmillan and Fugue sur le Theme du Carillon des Heures, Soissons Cathedral by Duruffle, surely initially an improvisation. No doubt the experts could still identify the Cavaille-Coll tonal qualities of the organ despite the number of changes over the years.

We were entertained in the local church hall with a welcome cup of coffee and then boarded the coaches again for a short trip to the Coats Memorial Baptist Church. The church was built in 1883 in memory of Thomas Coats, founder of a prosperous thread manufacturing business. The William Hill organ was completed in 1890 and, after a number of modifications, finally restored by Hill, Norman and Beard in 1995. The tonal qualities of the organ have remained effectively unchanged over the years but the console is now connected digitally to the two organ chambers by coaxial cable.

The organist, Bill Ritchi commenced his recital with a performance of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C minor, BWV 546. There followed pieces by Galloway, Hollins, Howells, Francis Jackson, then Cocker’s Tuba Tune and a fine performance of Reubke’s Finale from Sonata on the 94th Psalm. Unusually the recitalist invited us to wander around the church during the recital to hear the variation in sound from the organ in different parts of the church. Many listeners do this, quietly and unobtrusively, in any event but an invitation to do so is unusual.

<>We were soon back on the coaches for a pleasant journey through the countryside to Largs on the Firth of Clyde. A quick lunch and then to St Columba’s Church to hear Dr John Kitchen, Glasgow City Organist and a fine recitalist play the relatively modest Henry Willis Organ.

In a relative dry acoustic we had our first introduction to Buxtehude, a florid Praeludium in D and three short chorals. We then heard a second Prelude and Fugue in C Minor, BVW 546, an interesting comparison with the same piece heard earlier in the Coats Memorial Church. A delightful, Fantasie over de Avondzang by Asma followed, then pieces by Stanford, Howells, Leighton, and finally a vigorous though dissonant Toccata on ‘Now thank we all our God by Egil Hovland.

We returned to the hotel via the scenic coastal route and after dinner were entertained by Dr Relf Clark with a lecture on Elgar and the Organ. A delightful speaker with encyclopaedic knowledge of this subject he held his audience despite a tiring day of three organ recitals and a good dinner. The lecture was illustrated by musical excerpts and 35mm slides. It was rumoured that the  latter were not immediately recognised by the hotel staff in these days of computer generated ‘PowerPoint’ presentations.

 

Wednesday 25 July. The first venue of the day was St Margaret’s Knightswood Parish Church to hear Dr Kitchen again. This recital was billed as a demonstration  of the Henry Willis organ. With 10 stops on the great, 4 on the swell and a single pedal stop the specification was in complete contrast to the well-endowed instruments heard previously. The acoustic was dry and the short recital, which included Four Organ Chorales from the Orgelbuchlein by Bach and Voluntary in C minor/major by William Russell certainly illustrated the delightful range of stops available on the instrument.

The next stop was Glasgow Cathedral for a recital by John Turner. The organ was originally built by Henry Willis in 1879. It has been rebuilt and enlarged several times since that time. However, the organ was completely reconstructed and redesigned in 1996 by Harrison and Harrison with the intention of returning the instrument to its original Father Willis characteristics.

John Turner’s recital included Contrapunctus 9 (Die Kunst der Fugue) by Bach, an impressive Introduction and Fugue by Rheinberger and, finally, an excellent performance of Elgar’s 2nd Sonata. This was a splendid recital with a typical full and resonant cathedral organ sound.

We took a break from organ music with a short walk around Glasgow and a visit to the Museum of Modern Art. Then by taxi to Glasgow University Chapel where Kevin Boyer was to give the Brereton Memorial Recital.

The Chapel organ was built by Willis in 1928 and rebuilt by Harrison and Harrison in 2005. In keeping with the fashion at the time the console and organist were almost hidden from view in a gallery on the first floor opposite the organ. However, the manuals and organist could be clearly seen on a large screen in the body of the chapel by means of an effective video link.

Kevin Boyer’s recital included a Toccata di Concerto written in virtuoso style by Edwin Lemare, a remarkably versatile organist and composer. Next was something of a novelty, A Church Service Interrupted by a Thunderstorm by David Clegg. This was typical of the descriptive pieces once played at town hall recitals and the format of the piece depicted just what was in the title. Basso Ostinato was a jazzy piece by Koomans, with a repeated bass line ending in a blaze of trumpets and brass. Eireann Notes by Paul Fisher was pleasant series of Irish Folk melodies arranged for organ. The final item in the recital was a splendid performance of Elgar’s first major organ work, Sonata in G, Opus 280,

Thursday 26th July. Thursday commenced with an interesting journey from Glasgow to Edinburgh, first to the Reid Memorial Church completed in 1933 in memory of William Reid, a local businessman. The organ is housed in a chamber within the attached church tower and was specifically located outside the body of the church in order to give a more spacious effect in the church building.



The organ was built in 1933 by Rushworth and Dreaper and rebuilt by the same company in 1998. Surprisingly, although the organ speaks through a large grill into the church, it does not sound confined and Dr Jeremy Cull amply demonstrated the capabilities of the instrument with a programme which included a Concert Overture, The Land of the Mountain and the Flood by Hamish MacCun, Notturno. (From a Midsummer Night’s Dream) by Mendelssohn, an ingenious piece called The Squirrel by Powell Weaver and a massive performance of Hollin’s Theme with Variations and Fugue.
 

From the Reid Memorial Church we went to Canongate Kirk on the Royal Mile. Internally the Church has been renovated a number of times, most recently in 1991 with a predominant colour of light blue with red carpets, in complete contrast to the sombre church interiors we had seen to date. This is the church the Queen attends when she is in Edinburgh.

This is the first Frobenius organ to be installed in a church in Scotland and has had universal acclimation both for its craftsmanship and tonally.

Duncan Ferguson played Little Suite by Malcolm Archer. This was an IAO commissioned work and was remarkably tuneful utilising the resources of the organ to the full. The second part of the recital was given by Francesca Massey. Born in 1982 she has made a considerable name for herself as an international  recitalist and in many other music fields. Her recital included Toccata in F by Buxtehude, Trio Sonata No 2 in C minor by Bach, Mendelssohn’s Sonata in F minor and a strange but rhythmic piece by Guy Bovet, Salmanca.


Following a quick lunch the coaches took us on the short journey to St Cuthbert’ Parish Church to hear 19 year old Simon Hogan play Grave, (from Sonata in F minor) by Whitlock, an improvisation by Cochereau, Prelude sur ‘Venez, Divin Messie’, Bach’s Fantasia and Fugue in G minor and Elgar’s G major Sonata, the second performance of this work during Congress.

The specification of the organ shows rather more borrowing than usual, perhaps a reflection on the fact that it was built originally by Hope-Jones.

HJ


Following a short walk to the Usher Hall in the pouring rain we were pleased to be seated in the huge auditorium in comfortable cinema style seats to listen to Dr Kitchen again. After the day’s series of recitals many were more than pleased to have some light relief with Elgar’s Imperial March, a brisk cinema style Evening Rest by Alfred Hollins, Jazz Variations by Matthias Nagel and an organ transcription of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Entrance and March of the Peers from Iolanthe. However, the recital also included a memorable performance of ‘Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen’ by Liszt. Dr Kitchen has built up an enthusiastic public following with weekly recitals on this and other instruments, and indeed his masterly performance was welcomed with enthusiasm by the delegates.


UP


The monumental instrument which dominates the Usher Hall was originally built by Norman and Beard in 1914 and restored by Harrison & Harrison in 2003.  It appears that the Hall is to be closed for several months for a second stage of renovation. It is to be hoped that during this period the organ will be adequately cocooned to prevent damage from dust.

 

Friday 27 July. We took the coaches to hear Francesca Massey and Simon Hogan play the 1990 Flenthrop organ in Dunblane Cathedral. It would be interesting to know the reasoning behind the provision of this organ which appeared to have no mechanical aids to performance whatsoever.


Flen

<>Indeed the first piece by Francesca Massey, Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E Minor, The Wedge by Bach was played with minimal stop changes. Her second piece, Prelude, Scherzo and Passacaglia, by Leighton was apparently a conflict between E major and E minor. After some time it concluded with a welcome concord as E Major triumphed.
Simon Hogan
then entertained us with Fiat Lux by Dubois, two compositions by Bach, a Chorale preludeNun komm’, der  Heiden Heiland. and Trio - Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend. He concluded with  a Suite de Dances; March, Saraband and Gigue by Cochereau, a typical example of that master of improvisation.

We partook of a packed lunch and coffee in the church hall and then visited the Auchentoshan Distillery, noting the clinical cleanliness of the whole complex and, for those who sampled the whisky, its delightful taste.

We returned to the hotel and later we had an excellent Annual Dinner at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, with guest speaker the distinguished Lord Gill, who, apart form his many other responsibilities is an enthusiastic organist.

 

Conclusion. So ended yet another successful IAO Congress. The variety of music, organs, historical venues and brilliant organists experienced in a single week is a tribute to the imagination, hard work and devotion of the IAO Congress Organising Committee and the unstinting assistance of local organists’ associations. Their task was made no easier by the indisposition of our President, Catherine Ennis. Her ebullient presence which was so much in evidence in Cologne was sadly missed. We all wish her well and a rapid recovery.

Coming so soon after the American Theatre Organ Convention in New York in early July the IAO Congress was an entirely different, but no less enjoyable and memorable event.

 

David Ball  August 2007

 

Bexley and District Organists’ and Choirmasters’ Association.