IAO Annual Congress 2008 Cambridgeshire 

by Audrey Attree

On Thursday 24th July, Brian Moore, my husband Colin and I arrived at the Marriott Hotel in Huntingdon to attend the IAO Congress based in Cambridge. If we can be described as delegates, there were about 200 delegates attending, mostly, but not quite all, from Great Britain.

   After dinner we boarded coaches for a recital at St Neots by Francesca Massey, Assistant Director of Music at Peterborough Cathedral. This included works by Bach, Brahms, Messiaen, Alain and Eben. We were officially welcomed to the Congress by the President, David Hill, in his shirtsleeves, warmly but with apologies for his appearance, caused by a power cut at Ely, where he had attempted to practise for the recital he was to give on the Sunday. Francesca Massey played very well in everybody’s opinion, but the organ was somewhat hidden away and was not heard to the best advantage. The instrument was built in 1855 by Holdich and has been rebuilt by Bishops in 1900,1972 and most recently in 2007.

   Congress began in earnest the next day with four coaches picking us up at 9.00 a.m. Unfortunately, whilst most of us were showering there was a power cut, and as the hotel’s back up system also failed, there was a number of unwashed and unshaven delegates!

   This was our most intense day, with visits and recitals in Cambridge at St Mary the Less, Emmanuel URC, Queen’s College, Selwyn College and King’s College.

   The highlight of the Friday for many of us was Stephen Cleobury’s recital in King’s College Chapel. He said his programme was like a club sandwich, the bread being Widor’s Toccata from the 5th Symphony and the Finale of Vierne’s 1st Symphony. The butter was two pieces from Couperin’s Masse pour les paroisses and the filling three works containing variations: Bach’s partita “Sei gegrüsset” Mendelssohn’s 6th Sonata and Rheinberger’s 8th Sonata. The wonderful organ did justice to all of them and time spent in this exquisite building with the sun filtering through the stained glass is always an uplifting experience.

   There were too many recitals to write about all of them. The Saturday brought a Messiaen recital — L’Ascension and Messe de la Pentecôte — by Robert Houssart on the organ, designed by Stanford, in the Church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs, which seemed to fulfil all the demands made on it most successfully. Later in the day we were privileged to attend a rehearsal of Fauré’s Requiem with the Bach Choir in St. John’s College Chapel conducted by David Hill. After a short break and time for a quick ice cream, we returned to the chapel for the performance, which was accompanied by Jane Watts. It was a performance of great musicality with some beautiful soprano tone. We were delighted to find Kevin Grafton singing with the basses and to have time for a chat with him. Afterwards, at their request, the choir, accompanied by David himself, sang Parry’s “Blest Pair of Sirens” which showed to some extent that David’s comment that it would prove that conductors were not necessary could, on some occasions, be true — especially when you have an accompanist as brilliant as he is!

The Queen's College, Cambridge. Built in 1892 by J.J. Binns of Leeds
Case by G. F. Bodley, 3 manuak, 32 speaking stops.

   On the Sunday some went to Burghley House while others attended Sung Eucharist at Peterborough Cathedral. The choir was directed by Andrew Reid and the setting was a new mass by James MacMillan which was interesting, although most of us could not see any possibility of singing it with our own choirs! In the afternoon we went to evensong at Ely, sung very capably by the Liturgical Choir of Leeds University and then to a recital by David Hill which ended with Liszt’s “Ad nos, ad salutarem undam”, superbly played. He said afterwards that he had not used all the organ which was interesting as it seemed that not much more could be added!

   The final day saw us at Jesus College Chapel where Daniel Hyde demonstrated their new organ, built by the Swiss firm Kuhn Orgelbau, their first instrument in this country. It was a delightful organ, beautifully voiced, which seemed able to cope with most types of music. In the afternoon, after the Association’s AGM, we returned to St. John’s to a lecture by John Rutter. We thought he was going to speak about “Confessions of a Composer” but instead he spoke about David Willcocks, whose biography he is at present writing. There were some good anecdotes and it was a pleasure to hear some of Willcocks’ recordings with the choir of King’s. The day ended with the Annual Dinner at which Catherine Ennis was the speaker — thankfully restored to excellent health and spirits and full of her usual vigour.

   The organisers were obviously keen to give us our money’s worth and we felt we had had a most worthwhile few days, even if some of us flagged in the intense heat. Fortunately the hotel was air conditioned so it was possible to sleep. As always, the beauty of Cambridge leaves a deep impression and that, combined with a most stimulating few days, will remain with us for a long time.

 

 

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