IAO Annual Congress by Brian Moore

Yorkshire 18th – 22nd July 2003

By Friday 18th July some 200 delegates had arrived in Harrogate for the 2003 Congress, and accommodation had been arranged at the Old Swan Hotel in the centre of this most attractive spa town.  It was here in 1926 that Agatha Christie was found staying under an assumed name after she had mysteriously disappeared.  A small brass plaque at the foot of the main staircase records this event.

Since space does not permit me to write at length about the nine organs, which were included in the Souvenir Handbook, I thought I would mention some which I had not previously heard and perhaps are less well known to members.

The organ in Leeds Town Hall was installed in 1858 by Gray and Davison, the exuberant case standing 50 feet high.  It originally had 4 manuals, but after several changes was rebuilt as a 3 manual by Wood, Wordsworth & Co in 1972 under the supervision of Dr Donald Hunt. With 81 speaking stops (Great 22, Swell 19, Positive 17, Pedal 23) it is alleged to be the largest 3 manual in Europe. Darius Battiwalla put the organ through its paces in a recital of which the highlight was a stunning performance played from memory of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – Dukas, arr. Jonathan Scott.

The organ at Beverley Minster still contains 16 stops from what was John Snetzler’s largest instrument. It was rebuilt and enlarged by William Hill & Sons in 1885, and modernised by Hill, Norman & Beard in 1962/3.  More work was carried out by Wood of Huddersfield in 1995, and this included the addition of 5 new registers and the cleaning of the beautiful case which was designed by Arthur Hill and erected in 1916. The organ now has 72 stops (Great 15, Swell 17, Choir 11, Solo 10, and Pedal 19). Dr Alan Spedding MBE has been organist of the Minster since 1967, and he demonstrated the unforced chorus work and colourful individual stops of this lovely organ in a programme which included the first performance of Recuerdos (Remembrances), a suite of seven pieces which the IAO had commissioned from him. We also heard the fine Forster and Andrews/T.C. Lewis/Rushworth and Dreaper/Principal Pipe Organs 4 manual 73-stop organ in St. Mary’s, Beverley.

A highlight of Congress was our visit to York Minster, where the magnificent organ is so well known through the many recordings available of it that it needs no further description from me.  In the Chapter House Geoffrey Coffin, Founder-Director of Principal Pipe Organs and a former Assistant organist of the Minster, demonstrated a versatile two manual extension organ, which can be moved in sections. As this was the “end of term” and several choristers and choral scholars were leaving the choir, Choral Evensong was held in the Nave in order to accommodate the large congregation of family and friends.  The setting was Howells – Collegium Regale, and the anthem Parry – I was glad, complete with Vivats – all splendidly sung under the direction of Philip Moore, Organist and Master of the Music. John Scott Whiteley, Organist and Director of the Girl Choristers (at one point sporting dark glasses!) spoke about the recently televised series in which he played the complete organ works of J.S.Bach, and finished this memorable visit by playing Joseph Jongen – Sonata Eroica.

Monday was an action packed day, which started at Howden Minster (3 manuals 40 speaking stops/ Rushworth and Dreaper), followed by Selby Abbey. Dr. Roger Tebbet, Organist and Director of Music, who included the Liszt – Fantasia and Fugue on B.A.C.H in his programme, played the noble William Hill organ of 1909 (4 manuals 72 speaking stops). As well as three recitals, we had also heard three lectures by Andrew Fletcher, Malcolm Archer and Dr. Simon Lindley during the course of the day.

After dinner in Harrogate our last visit was to Ripon Cathedral, where the 4 manual organ of 60 speaking stops contains earlier work by T.C.Lewis and William Hill & Son, but is basically a Harrison and Harrison.  It was very successfully rebuilt by them in 1996, with a nave console being added in 2000. Andrew Bryden, Organist and Assistant Director of Music gave a brilliantly played recital, which included music by Alcock, Bohm. J.S.Bach, and Vierne (the Third Symphony).

On Tuesday Congress ended with a visit to Leeds Parish Church, which was built in 1841, replacing a smaller medieval church.  It has galleries and seating in collegiate style, and has always been famous for its music, Samuel Sebastian Wesley being the first organist. Dr. Simon Lindley, who had been installed as President of the IAO for 2003-2005 the previous evening at Ripon, spoke about the church and its music. A number of builders have worked on the organ, including William Hill, Abbot & Smith, Harrison & Harrison, and Wood, Wordsworth & Co. It was last restored in 1995 by Andrew Carter of Wakefield, and now has 4 manuals and 82 speaking stops (Great 19, Swell 16, Choir 16, Solo 9, Pedal 22). The organ is extremely powerful and is voiced to suit a full church. Dr. Lindley’s recital included music by S.S.Wesley and Edward Bairstow, both former organists of the church, and ended with Francis Jackson – Toccata, Chorale and Fugue (op.16). Both the composer, who was present, and the recitalist were warmly applauded, thus bringing Congress to a fitting conclusion.




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