CAMBRIDGE, 24 – 29 JULY 2008



The 2008 IAO congress gave us a tantalising glimpse of the musical culture of Cambridge. The intensive programme included recitals on the organs of six colleges, Queens, Selwyn, King's, emmanuel, St. John's and Jesus. We also heard the organs of Ely and Peterborough Cathedrals, three local churches, a lecture by the legendary John Rutter and a rehearsal and performance by members of the Bach Choir.

180 delegates attended Congress. Accommodation was provided at the well appointed Huntingdon Marriott Hotel situated in a somewhat remote business park about 20 miles from Cambridge. Transport from the hotel to the various venues was provided by four comfortable coaches.

2008 is the 100th anniversary of Messiaen’s birth and his music was prominently featured throughout.

Thursday 24 July
was occupied in travelling to the Marriott Hotel, delegates’ registration and, following dinner, a coach ride to the beautiful St Neots Parish Church to hear Fransesca Massey give a recital on the Bishop and Son organ. The organ was built initially by a George Holdich in 1855. It has been cared for  by Bishop and Son since 1895 and finally overhauled, with tonal alterations, in 2007.stneots

Fransesca Massey’s
recital commenced with a robust performance of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E Major BWV 556 followed by a Choral Prelude and a thoughtful interpretation of Prelude and Fugue in G Minor by Brahms. We had our first taste of Messiaen, Offrande au Saint Sacrement, with the usual profusion of discords but a quiet and relaxed work. This was followed by an intriguing piece, Fantasmagorie, by Alain. The recital ended with a splendid  performance of Ebon’s Homage a Dietrich Buxtehude.

The recital was followed by a reception in the church giving us the opportunity to enjoy a glass of wine with old friends. It was an enjoyable conclusion to a full day  and an auspicious start to Congress.

                                                                                                                                                                                                 St. Neots Parish Church

littlestmary.jpgFriday 25 July was a busy day. We first visited St Mary the Less in the heart of Cambridge to hear a new tracker organ built by the Kenneth Tickell & Company.  The bright clear voices of the organ were amply demonstrated by Daniel Hyde in a well articulated Bach Prelude and Fugue and, in complete contrast, Rhosymedre by Vaughan Williams.

We then walked to the Emmanuel United Reform Church for another short demonstration by Daniel Hyde on a Henry  Willis organ, modified extensively since its installation in 1880 and finally restored to the Willis stop list in 1992 by Harrison &  Harrison. This was the only near-original Willis we were to hear.


Kenneth Tickell Organ
Little St Mary  

The next recital was by Simon Hogan in Queen’s College chapel. This was the first University chapel we had visited. The architecture was most striking as was  the disposition of the organ. Many of the existing organs in the college chapels are rebuilds of organs provided many years ago and Queen’s is no exception.  The original organ was built by James Binns in 1892 and after passing through a number of transitions was finally overhauled by Harrison and Harrison in 2002.


Simon Hogan gave a thoughtfully planned  recital of complementary pieces commencing with a quiet Berceuse, (24 pieces in free style) by Vierne, Berceuse a la  memoir de Louis Vierne by Cochereau, no doubt originally an improvisation and Vierne’s Fourth Symphony in G Minor. Some clarity was lost in the final piece  but overall it was an enjoyable recital.


It was a long, hot, walk from Queen’s to Selwyn College where Colin Walsh was playing. In the event we decided to give this recital a miss, although by all accounts Colin Walsh played splendidly. We sat on a wall in the delightful grounds for a while and the last piece of his recital, Toccata in B flat minor by  Vierne was loud enough to be heard quite clearly outside the Chapel.

One delegate remarked that the tracker organ, built by Orgues Letourneau of Quebec, was far too loud for the chapel.


Organ by Orgues Letourneau of Quebec
Selwyn College


We took a quiet further stroll to King’s College to hear an electrifying recital by Stephen Cleobury on the Harris and Harrison organ.

King’s College Chapel is visited once a year through the medium of television for the service of Nine Lessons and Carols. Sitting in that wonderful building, with the soaring fan vaulting complemented by the windows and the perfect proportions of the organ case, all constructed without the use of a single computer or modern construction equipment, is an experience in itself.

The Chapel was built to the glory of the Monarchy perhaps, but not to the satisfaction of hundreds of displaced inhabitants  when, apparently, a significant portion of the existing town was demolished to make way for it.

Stephen Cleobury imaginatively likened his recital to a club sandwich, the toast being represented by the Symphony No 5 - Toccata by Widor and Vierne’s Symphony No 1 in both of which the he deployed the reeds to striking effect. The butter was represented by two quiet pieces by Couperin and the  meat of the sandwich, Mendelssohn’s Sonata in D Minor, Partite Diverse Soprail Corale by Bach and Reinburger's Sonata in D Minor. It was indeed a most enjoyable sandwich, impeccably played and with all the stops of the well-endowed organ displayed to the full. A treat indeed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Kings College Organ                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

Saturday 26 July.


Following our by now familiar bus journey to Cambridge we walked from the drop-off point to Emmanuel College to hear Peter Yardley-Jones’ recital on the organ built by Kenneth Jones of Bray, Ireland in 1988. Apparently the organ case is something of a hybrid, the great and chair cases originating from different sources. However, the two have been combined to form a satisfying whole incorporating the new organ.

Peter Yardley Jones gave a varied recital commencing with Prelude and Fugue in B Minor BWV 544. The dry acoustic of the building emphasised a possible lack of rhythmic precision in the fugue. He continued with music by Purcell, Stanley, Wesley, Tallis and Howells which although delightful did not perhaps do full justice to the organ.  


Emmanuel College Organ

The next recital on the list was by Robert Houssart at Our Lady and the English Martyrs on the 1890 Abbot and Smith organ, rebuilt by Nicolson  and Co in 2007. The recital consisted of works by Oliver Messiaen, L’Ascension and Messe de la Pentecote. Having tried to come to terms with Messiaen  for some 50 years without success it was decided to give the recital a miss and the break was spent exploring Cambridge, bustling with tourists and overseas  students, and enjoying a picnic with friends by the river.

We arrived at St John’s College in the afternoon for a rehearsal by members of the Bach Choir conducted by David Hill. After a short introdstjohns1uction David  Hill gave some useful tips on the preparation of the singers before a rehearsal or concert which would have been of interest to the choir masters amongst us.

He prepared the choir first by a series of physical exercises and then vocal exercises, aaa’s and mmm’s rising in volume and pitch. He then proceeded with the rehearsal of the music proper with the assistance of a versatile organist (Jane Watts), out of sight from where we were seated, but within earshot of David Hill’s instructions.


As the rehearsal progressed there was a tangible improvement to the combined sound of choir and organ, although the professionalism of singers and organist was such that the difference was not particularly marked.

As a hostage to fortune David Hill left the rostrum for the organ loft and accompanied the choir in Vaughan William’s Lest There be Silence.

Overall choir and organ produced a glorious sound enhanced by the acoustic of the building. For some, the discomfort of the choir stalls in which we were seated detracted a little from the enjoyment of the music.

We returned to St John's College later to hear a wonderful performance by the Choir of Faure’s Requiem, this time seated just outside the entrance to the chapel on a substantial bench.


Sunday 27 July was a day scheduled for visits to Peterborough and Ely Cathedrals. As an alternative to Peterborough, a visit to Burghley House had beem arranged for Sunday morning. We had an interesting 35 minute ride through pleasant countryside to Burghley on a glorious day. Reputed to be the largest and grandest house of the Elizabethan age, Burghley House was built between 1555 and 1587 by William Cecil, the first Lord Burghley, and is full of the most opulent decorations and furnishings. During our visit we were fortunate in hearing the Choir of Massachusetts University singing in the Great Hall. The Choir was on a tour of the UK.


Burghley House


Organ Ely Cathedral

On Sunday afternoon we were driven from Burghley House to Ely Cathedral for Choral Evensong and a recital by David Hill. Following Choral Evensong  with works by Stanford and Leighton we moved from the choir to the body of the church where seats had been thoughtfully reserved for IAO delegates  under the crossing. David Hill performed a splendid recital included Mendelssohn’s Prelude and Fugue in C, two pieces by Bach, two movements from  La Nativity du Seignior by Messiaen, Reger’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor/D major and finally a memorable performance of Listz’s Fantasy and  Fugue on the Choral; Ad nos, ad Salutarem Undam. Although much of the detail was lost in the resonant building the last piece utilised all the resources of the instrument concluding a veritable feast of organ music.


Monday 28 July. After yet another drive to Cambridge we arrived at Jesus College for a recital by Daniel Hyde. Following a short introduction from David Hill, the Managing Director of Kuhn Orgelbau of Switzerland spoke about his thriving company and expressed his pleasure at being able to provide  an organ for a Cambridge College Chapel. Daniel Hyde then gave a dissertation on the organ specification explaining, amongst other things, the apparent proliferation of 8 ft stops. In summary the Romantic style of the organ fulfilled the many different needs of the chapel music programme, not only accompanying  the choir but also as a world class instrument on which to train organists of the future.


Daniel Hyde

The choral tradition of the Jesus College Chapel was revived in 1840 with the arrival of a Sir John Sutton, Fellow-Commoner of the college. He was responsible for the installation of an organ by Bishop and Sons in 1894. This organ, which has painted doors which can be closed to cover the pipes, and the new Kuhn tracker organ stand side by side in the chapel. The ‘Sutton’ organ is to be restored later this year. Two fine organs in one chapel is indeed a luxury.


Sutton Organ

Eventually Daniel Hyde took his place out of sight at the Kuhn organ console tucked in between the two organs. He played a measured Toccata, Adagio  and Fugue in C by Bach, a pleasant and somewhat  enjoyably frivolous piece by Hollins, a Song of Sunshine, a noisy Paean by  Leighton, and a tuneful Villanella by Ireland. He concluded with Carillon Sortie by Mulet. It was a recital carefully chosen to demonstrate to the full the divisions of the organ  and, as always, Daniel Hyde played with clarity and excellent articulation.



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Kuhn Organ, Jesus College


Monday afternoon found us again at St John’s College to hear a lecture by the legendary John Rutter entitled ‘Confessions of a Composer’. In the  event he confessed to little if anything but gave an enthralling talk covering the historical musical tradition of Cambridge. His own contribution to this history  was unique. He had recorded live interviews with George Guest, who had actually met Vaughan Williams and Herbert Howells. These interviews were eventually to be released in CD format.


John Rutter

Conclusion.  Congress concluded with a reception and dinner in the hotel. The guest speaker, expanding at length on the contribution of Albert Schweitzer to organ music, was Past President Catherine Ennis. It was good to see her again in typically ebullient mood following her recent illness.

So ended yet another successful IAO Congress. This year we were given unique access to the college chapels to hear splendid organs played by consummate musicians and we were also enabled to enjoy a diversity of architecture in historic Cambridge. The overall organisation of Congress was a tribute to the imagination and dedication of the IAO President and  Organising Committee.

David Ball. August 2008

Bexley and District Organists’ and Choirmasters’ Association

BDOCA Web Site.