The Organ

News Archive: December 2008

  • Jon Simsic Impresses Judges in Ohio Composition Contest
    News Item added: 23 December
    A choral conductor from Ohio USA, has won the 2008 Royal School of Church Music (RSCM) annual composition contest, in memory of Dr Harold Smart. The entry by Jon Simsic, director of the Salem Community Theatre Youth Chorus was, in the words of the adjudicators, 'the one clear and outright winner'.

    The brief for this year's Harold Smart Competition was to write an anthem for up to four choral parts on an agricultural theme, including harvest thanksgiving and/or caring for the earth. Entrants were not allowed to identify themselves on their manuscripts.

    Jon Simsic's winning anthem Harvest Hymn adapted a poem by Sarojini Naidu from her collection, 'The Golden Threshold', and includes Hindu deity references which Simsic adapted to the Holy Trinity. Simsic wins a prize of £100, and a performance of his work in Salisbury Cathedral in Autumn 2009. Commenting on his award, Jon Simsic is honoured to receive recognition from the adjudicators. 'It's humbling to say the least', he said. 'When I received the congratulatory letter in the mail, I figured it was just another letter of rejection! To have one's work recognized by the RSCM and the prestigious adjudicators as well as the performance opportunity at Salisbury Cathedral is indeed thrilling!'

    In their adjudication, David Halls, Organist and Master of the Choristers at Salisbury Cathedral, and Tim Ruffer, the RSCM's Head of Publishing, state that Simsic's work 'shows a sophistication rarely seen previously in this competition. This is a challenging piece, even by Cathedral standards, not least because of the organ part that requires both an excellent organist and an instrument capable of the varied textures. The vocal writing, despite the modern idiom, is exemplary, never straying beyond comfort zones, apart maybe from the final chord of exuberance'.

  • Cameron Carpenter
    News Item added: 15 December
    Cameron Carpenter's first CD/DVD/SACD, "Revolutionary," released by Telarc International in September, has been nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (without Orchestra) category. Recorded early in 2008 on the Marshall & Ogletree organ at Trinity Wall Street, it features an installation of two Thigpen Rotary Woofers for the reproduction of 32' (16 Hz) and 64' (8 Hz) pedal stops.

  • MyPipes
    News Item added: 15 December
    The organ music website has now become part of the website where high quality organ music is available on a pay-per-download basis. Simply click on the link at the bottom right corner of the new web page!

  • Wednesday 10th and Thursday 11th December, 7.30pm, Royal Festival Hall: Centenary of Messiaen and Elliott Carter's 100th Birthday celebrated in two landmark London Concerts by Pierre Boulez and Ensemble Intercontemporain at Southbank Centre
    News Item added: 8 December
    Composers Olivier Messiaen and Elliott Carter were born on consecutive days in 1908 (10 and 11 December respectively) and their centenaries will be celebrated at Southbank Centre on these dates, in two concerts given by Pierre Boulez and Ensemble Intercontemporain, with pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard. A rare interview with Carter, still writing prolifically as he approaches his 100th birthday, will be screened in the auditorium during his birthday concert for the first time. Marshall Marcus, Southbank Centre's Head of Music, carried out the interview at the composer's New York home in October. For more information, call 0871 663 2500 or visit

  • Composition dedicated to McCartney
    News Item added: 8 December
    The Queen's master of music Sir Peter Maxwell Davies has created a special composition for Capital of Culture year which he's dedicated to Sir Paul McCartney. Liverpool's Metropolitan Cathedral is the venue for the world premiere of a specially commissioned piece of music by the Queen's master of music, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Two choirs and an organ will perform A Hymn To The Spirit Of Fire, a piece that Sir Peter has dedicated to Sir Paul McCartney, at the city's Metropolitan Cathedral on Saturday 13th December 2008. The premiere, organised by the Concerts Society at the Cathedral, marks the first commission on this scale with such an internationally renowned composer. Tickets for the performance on 13 December are £7 and available from the Metropolitan Cathedral gift shop.

  • MasterClasses in Rio de Janeiro - Early 2009
    News Item added: 8 December
    The Institute of Culture and Organistic Art offers two organ masterclasses on the subject of interpretation and organistic technique. These courses will take place in the first half of 2009 in Rio de Janeiro: 26, 27 and 28 de January 2009 - Joachim Walter (Germany) will teach the masterclass - 'The musical world of Buxtehude'; 30, 31 March and 1st April 2009 - Ludger Lohmann (Germany) will teach the masterclass 'Interpretation of the works of Bach'.

  • Before Its Debut, Cathedral Organ Has a Sound Check
    News Item added: 2 December
    News from St. John the Divine, New York published in the New York Times of 26th November... By James Barron

    Bruce Neswick slid onto the organ bench, loosened his tie and started improvising — first some chords, then a couple of runs, then something meditative that sounded very much like a prelude for a Sunday morning worship service. But it was not Sunday morning, it was Tuesday afternoon. And Mr. Neswick's improvisations were the first music played on the organ at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine since a fire in December 2001.

    The impromptu recital by Mr. Neswick, the director of cathedral music at St. John the Divine, was another milestone in the cathedral's $41 million comeback from the fire. It was also brief preparation for a rededication service on Sunday that will include a piece by Ralph Vaughan Williams that was first performed at the cathedral 67 years ago. The Sunday service will include a first performance of its own: One of the hymns to be sung is brand new. It was written by the Rev. Canon Victoria R. Sirota, the cathedral's canon pastor and vicar. Her husband, Robert Sirota, the president of the Manhattan School of Music, composed the music. Mr. Neswick will play the last two hymns in the rededication service and the postlude, “Fanfare” by Alec Wyton, who was the organist and master of the choristers from 1954 to 1974. Timothy Brumfield, the cathedral's associate organist and choirmaster, will play the prelude and the opening hymns.

    The organ's 8,500 pipes have been making sounds for the last few weeks as the instrument has gone through what Douglass Hunt, the cathedral's organ curator and the project consultant on the restoration, called the three T's — “tuning, testing and troubleshooting.” The tuning went on before and after Mr. Neswick's 20 minutes at the console, with a tuner named Joe Nielsen playing note after note on cue from Eric Johnson, an organ voicer who was standing amid the pipes, in a chamber on the opposite side of the cathedral. They were tuning flutelike stops at fairly low volume when Mr. Neswick arrived. As they worked their way up the scale, the pitches became higher and higher. It was hard to listen for more than a moment without thinking of the sounds in a hearing test, or of a tea kettle that has been on the stove a little too long.

    The 98-year-old organ was designed by Ernest M. Skinner, who also built the organ at St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, among many others. This one was enlarged in the 1950s by G. Donald Harrison. As part of the current restoration, all 8,500 organ pipes were taken out and shipped to Missouri in 2005. They were cleaned by Quimby Pipe Organs, which builds and restores instruments of a scale approaching this one. They were brought back this summer, and the organ console was moved into place above the choir loft last month. The mechanical controls inside the organ console are brand new. The old mechanical relays that controlled the pipes are gone, replaced by a new system with microprocessors. Mr. Neswick said a goal of the restoration had been to introduce “just the right amount of modern technology without interfering with the artistry of the instrument.”

    The rebuilding was necessitated by the 2001 fire, a five-alarm blaze that apparently started in the gift shop. It gutted the north transept; smoke dirtied much of the 601-foot-long sanctuary. Two 17th-century Italian tapestries from a set of 12 depicting the life of Christ were also damaged. The work on the organ was delayed briefly around Labor Day, when a drainage pipe that was being replaced in the cathedral spilled dirty water into the newly refurbished organ chambers. Michael Quimby, the president of the company that rebuilt the organ, said the accident increased the pressure on the team installing the instrument as the Sunday rededication drew near. “Where we thought we'd have plenty of time to put the organ through its paces,” he said, “it's really down to the wire because of that situation.” Mr. Neswick played for a while before letting Mr. Nielsen and Mr. Johnson go back to tuning. Mr. Neswick did not try what Mr. Hunt called “the most famous organ stop anywhere,” the organ's state trumpet stop. It plays the horizontal pipes at the west end of the cathedral, more than 500 feet from the console and the rest of the pipes. The state trumpet stop was designed to be loud — so loud that organists who are practicing sometimes call the visitors' center to warn people. They still jump at the first note. “The idea was the state trumpet stop would only be used on state occasions, to announce the bishop on Easter Sunday, when he knocks at the great bronze doors,” Mr. Hunt said. “But it has become a voice of the place.”