The I.A.O. Congress 2006

by Audrey Attree

"That was one of the best holidays we’ve ever had," we both said as Husband Colin and I came home from the I. A. O. Congress in Cologne last July. We had just had five days of hearing beautiful organs superbly played, visiting interesting places, seeing lovely countryside and meeting many like-minded people.

We stayed in a modern hotel on the outskirts of Cologne, which fortunately was air-conditioned, as we were there in one of the hottest weeks of the year. In Cologne we visited some of the beautiful Romanesque churches which surround the cathedral and heard their fine organs which were all modern because these churches had been badly damaged during the Second World War. The outstanding experience, of course, was a recital by Winfried Bönig in Cologne Cathedral; mercifully little damaged in the war. We were told that we needed to be there an hour beforehand to get a seat and this was indeed true. People streamed in, children too, some even carrying seats which they placed round the pillars. The organ is a vast Klais, with a transept organ of 91 stops and a nave organ of 53 stops. The playing was superb but the programme, mostly Liszt and Reger, made no concessions to popular taste, except for one of the encores, "The Flight of the Bumblebee!", which provided some frivolity. There were at least 3,000 present (for one of a regular series of recitals!)

There were visits to churches in Bonn, and a tour of the Beethovenhaus. A trip up the Rhine in a specially chartered boat with a splendid lunch, and a lecture by William McVicker on the state of organ building today was another highlight. The day ended with a visit to the Klais organ works where we were able to roam around the workshops. In the timber yard are trees that were felled at the end of the war; still waiting for the right organ we were told! After supper outdoors, Elizabeth Priday, who in the morning had sung Handel in a church in Bonn, stood amongst the dustbins and sang Gershwin, accompanied on a piano inside the house by Catherine Ennis, with the window wide open!

We heard organs by Stumm, which were interesting since Mendelsohn registered many of his pieces on a Stumm organ. Another wonderful organ was the König (1727) in the monastery at Steinfeld. It was familiar to me from recordings but I was delighted to hear it in situ. Of the modern organs, I particularly liked those by Klais, especially that in St. Elisabeth, Bonn, for the beauty and balance of their tone.

A very convivial week ended with a wine-tasting and supper. There was a great spirit of camaraderie throughout Congress — we met people we knew and people who knew people we knew. Before we went, we thought we might miss out on one or two events but to our surprise we did everything except the one thing Colin thought he might enjoy most — a visit to a brewery! It was planned for 9.30 at night and Colin said he was too tired to bother! In fact, we didn’t come across anyone who did go! The success of Congress owed much to Catherine Ennis, the President. Her cheerfulness, energy and careful planning, together with some beautiful playing, made everything go well. Many years ago we both sang in the same choir so it was good to see her again.

Next year’s Congress will be held in Glasgow and in 2008 the venue will be Cambridge. Do go if you possibly can.

König (1727) in the monastery at Steinfeld

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