OrganFest started 3 years ago so the Hull gathering was the 4th in the series having previously been at Birmingham and Edinburgh. This was my first attendance at organ fest or indeed Hull and both were worth the trip.
Despite its rather lacklustre reputation Hull has a lot to offer. There has been substantial regeneration of the marina and the city itself has large pedestrian areas where substantial, grand and well maintained civic buildings stand out. And of course, there is Holy Trinity Church, now renamed Hull Minster that is an architecturally splendid building, currently hiring one of our instruments while building works are in progress.
Hull City Hall – Home of the 1911 Forster & Andrews Organ
Hull City Hall was our venue for the 2 days which is the home of the monstrous Forster & Andrews organ dating from 1911. We are fortunate it still exists as war bomb damage to the building was substantial. It is a truly vast instrument with theatre organ effects adding to its classical capabilities. There is a 64 ft Gravissima, first one I have ever heard and the pistons are double touch, so push too far and you will not have selected quite what you wanted! You can see the specification and picture of the massive console.
Friday’s programme and highlights
The event kicked off with a very inventive idea. BBC presenter and newsreader Huw Edwards is a passionate supporter of the organ as well as a talented organist. He was a Desert Island disc style guest and we were treated to a lovely series of stories in conversation with Gordon Stewart with the ‘Discs’ played on the organ by John Scott Whiteley. Huw is very active trying to save some of the best Welsh Chapel pipe organs and as a fellow welsh man I applaud that particular effort. His final choice of piece was the Widor Toccata.
This was followed by presentations presenting information on the IAO, BIOS, Hull & East Riding Organ Group and finally the RCO. Friday evening concluded with a fine recital of French music given by Colin Walsh, Organist Laureate Lincoln Cathedral.
Saturday Morning programme
Saturday introduced the audience to the music of Alfred Hollins a very interesting blind Hull born composer and talented organist. His music is very accessible and I have heard much of his repertoire before. Tunes are readily evident! I broadcasted the Song of Sunshine being part of Darius Battiwalla’s recital.
Darius was followed by John Pemberton with an illustrated talk on the history of the City Hall organ and the other work of is builders, the local firm Forster & Andrews. At one point this informed us of the organ pipe scaling work done by Johann Gottlob Topfar. Apparently, he determined that the best results to manage power and tone across the compass were to halve pipe diameters at every 17th note, but later offered alternative to halve the diameter on the 18th or 19th notes. I expect this is source of vigorous debate amongst organ builders and I for one will happily leave for them to resolve.
Highlight and conclusion of the morning session was a full and well delivered appreciation of the life and works of Dr Francis Jackson who was sat in the audience just a few days short of his 100th birthday. Andrew McCrea is a deputy director of the RCO and he presented a well-illustrated history of Francis’s life story with excerpts of his compositions played by John Scott Whiteley and Colin Wright. How often does one celebrate a great musician’s Centenary. Not often! And it was a real honour to listen to some of his work for organ with him sat in the room with us. That sets the bar for OrganFest 2018!
Saturday afternoon and evening
After lunch we were entertained again by John Scott Whiteley, this time at the lectern with Robert Poyser of Beverley minster helping out at the organ. John is a Bach scholar and his talk and musings as to why Bach never completed Orgelbuchlein were fascinating. Some of you may know that there is a project in hand open to all to offer compositions to ‘complete’ the work. The series was to be 164 chorales but Bach only provides us with 45. Robert played 5 of the entries including those submitted by Francis Jackson and Naji Hakim. All were to a cracking standard so we are in for a treat if they will ever be published.
It was nice next to see 3 young organists on stage talking to Alan Thurlow about what drew them to the instrument and their hopes for their own futures and the future of the organ in years to come. As we know there are far too few youngsters starting the organ and we need to make the instrument far more accessible for them. Too many organists out there protective of their instruments if you ask me. Oh and too many churches making access in general for anything difficult!
Our day concluded with a charming recital by Kevin Bowyer who at the start of his career won just about every competition prize going. Kevin is a most accomplished musician with a great knowledge of repertoire and always adding piece to his performance ready list. Above all Kevin plays to entertain and show off the instrument and finding what by any measure is obscure works with which to do it. New to me in this concert were the names, Harvey B Gaul, Ernest Bucalossi, Arthur Pryor to name but 3. Where does he keep finding them all. I dredge the shelves of Blackwells and 2nd hand book shops for music but never stumble on the material Kevin finds.
Finally some Videos to watch
Rather than talk any more why don’t you just sit back and take a look at Kevin playing 2 of his recital pieces below.
I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts. Tuba on 25 inches of wind! Fred Hetherton
Triumphal Overture Ernest Tomlinson 1924-2015
Congratulations to all who put in so much work to make the event such a varied and entertaining session.