An Organ tour to Belgium

by Andrew Cesana


It had been seven years since I last participated in one of the Organ Tours organised by Philip and Pam Carter from Bristol, but when I discovered that they were visiting Belgium, my instant reaction was, Yes Please!

The tour started on Sunday 28th September with the party gathering around the coffee bars of Waterloo International Station waiting for the Eurostar train that would take us to Brussels via the new Channel Tunnel Rail Link across the River Medway and under Blue Bell Hill of course, then on to France.

Upon arriving at the Gare du Midi, we were met by Professor Jean Ferrard, Professor of Organ at the Royal Music Conservatory in Brussels and our coach driver, Gino, who promptly took us to Bruges where we saw the Memling Museum and the church of St. Walburga, which the KCOA visited in October 1999. Jean Ferrard played music by John Stanley, van den Keckhoven and Lambert Chaumont whose Suite du Premier Ton was very exquisite and reminiscent of the French Classical School.

On Monday, the first stop was to Haringe, an instrument very familiar to KCOA members although glorious weather prevailed during our visit there this time. More music by van den Kerckhoven and Lambert Chaumont was played by Jean Ferrard, as well as music by Babou and Sweelinck. Then onwards to Ghent for lunch and a visit to the famous tryptich by Jan van Eyck entitled The Adoration  of the Mystical Lamb. By the evening the party had reached Antwerp for a demonstration of the two organs in the Cathedral, the East end organ (a fine Metzler of 1993) demonstrated by Jean Ferrard in music by Chaumont, John Bull, who resided in Antwerp, and J.S.Bach (BWV 533). Also, the newly appointed Organist, Peter van De Velde demonstrated the fine West End Organ by Schyven of 1891, in music by Widor and Tournemire.

Tuesday saw a visit to St. Paul’s Church, Antwerp with an instrument originally built by van Hagen in 1624 but since added to. Jean Ferrard demonstrated with music by Chaumont, Pieter Cornet and Bach (BWV 572). This was followed by visits to the Vleeshuis Musical Museum which houses the original Cavaillé-Coll console from the church of Ste. Clothilde in Paris as played by Cesar Franck and the Plantin Moretus Museum. Then after lunch it was on to Tongeren for the visit to the Basilica of Our Lady where there is housed a mediaeval pilgrim statue of Our Lady dating back to 1475 and the historic le Picard organ of 1753 restored by Thomas in 2002 on which Jean Ferrard played more music by Chaumont and Cornet.

The stay in Liege from Tuesday night until Wednesday morning was very interesting in that it started with a visit to the community of Benedictine nuns at La Paix Notre Dame. The le Picard organ of 1737, restored by Westenfelder in 1989 was demonstrated by Jean Ferrard in a complete performance of Couperin’s Messe pour les Couvents, very appropriately for a religious community. One of Jean Ferrard’s pupils who stayed at the Convent whilst a student of his at the Conservatory in Liege is now Sister Petra O.S.B, the Senior Organist there!

On Wednesday morning we visited St. Jacques, a very fine Gothic church with organ case dating back to 1600. Tunder, Sweelinck and Cornet were the composers featured in this demonstration and the opportunity was given for the purchase of CDs and literature about the organ, courtesy of a small bookshop although the gentleman running it was not perhaps accustomed to giving out change in Euros! It was then on to Stavelot to see the Korfmacher organ of 1841 and on to Ster-Francorchamps to see the organ works of M. Andre Thomas, preceded by a sandwich lunch at the local café. His contracts included the restoration of the Cavaillé-Coll organ at the Carmelite Convent Church in Monaco. It was amazing what his staff could do with restoring pipes as well! Then it was the famous Abbey of Leffe with its Thomas organ of 1996 in the style of Silbermann. Brother Dominic of the Praemonstratensian community there is the organist, a pupil of Jean Ferrard, who again demonstrated with music by Bach. This was followed by beer in the monastery courtesy of the community!

After having arrived in Brussels on the Wednesday evening, Thursday morning gave us free time to visit the Atomium before visiting two churches in the afternoon. First, Notre Dame de la Chapelle, which houses a 17th century, style organ by Rudi Jacques. Secondly, Notre Dame du Sablon which houses a Goynaut organ of 1770 restored by Westenfelder in 1989. More Chaumont and Cornet added with two inventions by Benoist Mernier in a contemporary style.

Friday saw visits to smaller instruments at country churches such as Bornival, Bossut and Longueville but the largest instrument that day was at the Collegiate Church of St. Gertrude at Nivelles where Jerome Gierse, a pupil of Jean Ferrard, demonstrated with music by Bruhns, Nivers, Bohm and Bach. But the highlight of the day was the visit to the Begijnhofkerk in Leuven where the fine Goltfus organ of 1690 was demonstrated by Jean Ferrard in a recital that included a memorable performance of the Tiento LIII by Corrrea de Arauxo. Here it was felt that Jean Ferrard exposed his musical soul.

Over the weekend, Brussels organs were visited, first the romantic organ at Notre Dame du Finistere in which Colin Goulden and I were asked to be registrants for Jean Ferrard. At the Temple du Musee (Brussels main Protestant church) we saw the two instruments there (Forceville 1699 and Dreymann 1841) and the Schyven organ of  1884 at the Armed Forces Church of St. Jacques sur Coudenberg. High Mass at St. Michael’s Cathedral on the Sunday morning (including a new setting by Kurt Bikkembergs for their Patronal Festival) was followed by a demonstration by Jean Ferrard the same evening of the new Gerhard Grenzing organ with music by Bach, Huybrechts and Jongen plus an encore piece, Dr. Bull’s Goodnight by John Bull. A Soiree was held at Jean Ferrard’s house to end the tour, courtesy of Jean Ferrard and Naomi Takagi. We also had opportunities to visit the Carmelite and Anglican Churches near our hotel on the Monday morning following which after lunch the coach driver, Gino, took us back to the Gare du Midi in Brussels where we boarded the 5.00 p.m. Eurostar. We all parted company at Waterloo station and I arrived in Rochester at 8.00 p.m.

It was a memorable tour brilliantly organised by Jean Ferrard, who runs his own recording company. Hopefully, he will make a tour to England in the near future. He studied with Marie Claire Alain and has given master classes internationally. Our thanks are due to him and to Philip and Pam Carter who liaised with him.



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