My very first job was as an articled accountant in London working a stones throw from Borough Market in a brand new tower block by London Bridge station. That block has since been demolished and on that site now sits the Shard. Who would have though a tower block would become redundant in just 40 years or perhaps more a sign of the incredible land values that London supports.
Anyway I was also but a stones throw from Southwark Cathedral but it was not until last Saturday that I set foot for the first time in the building. In the early 1970’s I regret to say I spent spare time more in the nearby pubs than soaking up evensong and wonderful organs.
I was a guest at the RCO Diploma awards ceremony held each year in the Cathedral. An event very similar to many universities ‘Graduation Days’ except that for this one as you might expect there was some serious organ playing to entertain the gathering.
My day started with a buffet lunch in the Weston Library as I was unable to attend the AGM that was held about an hour earlier. I bumped into a few old friends and made a few new ones before it was time to take a seat in the Cathedral and wait for the processional entry of the RCO officers and examiners in their various highly coloured gowns and take their seats facing us under the crossing.
RCO President Dr Philip Moore gave the opening address before about 40 or so ‘students’ were individually awarded their certificates. And then this year there were 2 special awards of ‘The RCO Medal’ for distinguished service to the world of organ music.
First presented was Anne Marsden Thomas MBE. Years ago I was one of her students at the St Giles Organs School she founded in the Barbican. This has grown into a platform of excellence of teaching and is now part of the RCO. No disservice to some of my earlier teachers but the difference between an organist who teaches and a teacher trained to teach organ is immense as I found when I started with Anne. This is just one of many of her contributions to our world which includes many publications of tutor books and graded anthologies of music that all remain in print today. Not to mention the 2 new organs at St Giles Church that she was critical to delivering.
To those of us addicts of organ music and Bach in particular Ton Koopman needs no introduction, the second medal recipient. His recorded output is famous for not just its quality but also the sheer volume of its work. He founded the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir and his enthusiasm and knowledge of the music of Baroque era is rightly internationally acclaimed. Two more worth figures of our world to honour would be hard to find. You can read more about Anne and Ton on the RCO website here.
We were then treated to a recital by Ashley Grote. My first memories of Ashley are on the Christmas broadcasts from Kings that were a seasonal highlight, especially for me when the cameras all too briefly would focus on the loft and organist at work. Ashley’s career has moved on quickly from Kings and he is now Director of the Music at Norwich Cathedral.
I can not imagine a more daunting request than Ashley received to be the recitalist. A church full of RCO’s and ARCO’s and Ton Koopman! I hope the reward was substantial.
Southwark’s Organ as our notes explained is a Lewis from 1897 that has been through two incarnations before being returned to more or less original specification in the late 1980’s by Harrison & Harrison. The sound was especially warm and typically ‘English’ helped as there is but one mutation stop, a quint and not a single mixture anywhere across its 5 departments. Not sure I would like that myself but it did the recital job well in Ashley’s very capable hands and feet.
Ashley began with the D major prelude and fugue BWV 532 that begins with the very exposed D major pedal scale. Brave start at any time let alone in front of an assembly of the best and most revered organists in the country!
Ashley then went on the play the Frack 1st Chorale and concluded with Francis Jackson’s Toccata Chorale and Fugue Op 16. The ceremony was brought to an end by Limpus Prize winner Donal McCann playing Heraldic Flourish, also by Francis Jackson.
Finally check out the RCO Facebook page for some more pictures from the RCO diploma day.
I have had a passion for church organs since the tender age of 12. I own and run Viscount Organs with a close attention to the detail that musicians appreciate; and a clear understanding of the benefits of digital technology and keeping to the traditional and emotional elements of organ playing.