The Organ Festival

We were most fortunate to be invited to return to All Saints’ Church, Maidstone, with its fine 1880 Lewis organ, for our third annual Organ Festival in May. This ancient Collegiate Church, built by Archbishop Courtenay in 1395, is considered to be the grandest Perpendicular church in England. Its vast nave is now furnished with Victorian pews and a once impressive wooden choir screen is set at the back of the church. Nevertheless, take time to look around and the history of this imposing building is chronicled, not only in a plethora of memorials — including one remembering Laurence Washington, whose descendent, George Washington, became President of America — but also in its fabric and architecture. Beneath our feet, past centuries are revealed in the patina of the old stone floor, uneven and worn like the floor of a country farmhouse kitchen, ancient stones that exude that faint but distinctive smell of damp wet earth.

   The organ’s impressive fifty-four stop, three-manual and pedal console had been wheeled out in readiness across the rustic floor, standing in front of the chancel steps where Dr David Flood was, as always, the epitome of courtesy and charm as he greeted KCOA members, visitors and our three candidates.

   The Festival syllabus stipulated four categories: Elementary, grades 3 and 4; Intermediate, grades 5 and 6; and Advanced, grade 7 and above. Also, new this year, an all grades section in which the music was the choice of the candidate, but played using only the organ’s flutes and strings, the swell oboe, choir clarinet, choir mutations and the softer pedal stops.

   It was particularly encouraging to have a candidate for the Elementary section this year and we were pleased to welcome Daniel Getty, aged 13, from Bexhill. Daniel attends St. Richard’s College, Bexhill and has played the piano from the age of seven; he also plays the oboe in Hastings Youth Orchestra and Youth Symphony Orchestra, although he only started playing the organ last summer, having organ lessons with Alistair Curtis. He played three pieces: Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ BWV 558 by J S Bach; Vierne’s Berceuse, the set piece; and Prelude No. 6 from the Eight short Preludes and Fugues by J S Bach.

   His opening Bach, using the swell oboe with tremulant, produced an engaging melodic line with an underlying musical flow. The Berceuse was equally well registered with sensuous strings and flutes. His chosen Bach Prelude had breadth of phrasing and musicality; it was careful playing, although slightly marred by a hint of nervous apprehension. However, Daniel had bravely opened the day for us, playing before an eager audience of organists and Dr David Flood, who was immediately encouraging and helpful, conducting a mini master class for us. Dr Flood showed Daniel how he should position himself on the organ bench and, without looking down, find his pedal notes. Daniel, quite rightly, gained the Elementary award.

Dr. David Flood with Matthew Jorysz and Alexander Bliss

   There were two candidates for the Advanced section: Alexander Bliss, aged 13 and Matthew Jorysz aged 15. Alexander has played the organ for six years and is a pupil at Ardingly College, West Sussex, where he plays the organ for Chapel services. He passed his grade 7 organ in December 2007 and also plays the piano, violin and viola. He is a pupil of Janet McCleery FRCO and gained the Intermediate award and special award for the most promising player at our Festival in 2007. Matthew Jorysz won our Festival advanced class last year, including a recital in Canterbury Cathedral. He is a pupil at Brentwood School, Essex where he has a music Scholarship; he has been playing the organ for five years and studies with Ann Elise Smoot MMus., ARCO at St. Giles Organ School.

   The set piece for the Advanced section was Mendelssohn’s Allegro con brio, the 1st movement from Sonata No 4 in B flat and Alexander, first to play, set an enthusiastic tempo, with musically cascading and flowing arpeggios. His chosen Bach fugue was from the Prelude and Fugue in C BWV 553, in which he displayed clear musical part playing, beautifully phrased.

   Matthew’s Mendelssohn had a musical confidence and good use of registration, although perhaps articulation was a little marred by some slightly hurried phrases. His chosen Bach was the fugue from Prelude and Fugue in C BWV545, rather more difficult than Alexander’s BWV 553. However, he showed good control and an overarching musical direction, even though some detail was perceptively rushed.

   Dr Flood was required to adjudicate and select who should be awarded first place. He took the candidates through their performances and also gave another small master class, but finally concluded that he felt it unfair to place one above the other; hence the £200 prize was divided between them and hopefully both will play at Canterbury.

   The new all grades section of the Festival allowed the candidates a free choice of music, but played using only the prescribed stops. Matthew Jorysz chose music by Franz Schmidt, the Choral Prelude O, wie selig seid ihr doch, Frommen in which he used flutes, strings and a beautifully singing choir clarinet, delivered with a controlled musical breadth and phrasing. Alexander Bliss chose Prelude Fugue and Variations by César Franck, which was attractively phrased, using the swell oboe.

   David Flood was most appreciative, not only of the choice of music, but how the candidates selected their registrations. This section was again finely balanced, but David fairly awarded the prize to Alexander Bliss.

   Both candidates played for us again concluding an enjoyable morning of music with the added bonus of Dr David Flood’s teaching and reassuring encouragement; we must thank David for his time with us.

   As we had just three candidates this year, there was time for an additional item following a fine buffet lunch. Andrew Clarke had kindly arranged a slide presentation entitled “Old Maidstone” which consisted of photographs of Maidstone from Edwardian times to the present day. Andrew has been an enthusiastic photographer for many years, as was his father whose wide collection had been passed on to Andrew. By chance, Andrew had also obtained a commercial photographer’s collection of negatives, which covered a fascinating range of manufacturing in Maidstone from the 1920s to the 1960s.

   All the pictures had been carefully downloaded to a computer, which was linked to a digital projector. Andrew started with some pictures from the 1930s, the slides reproduced from his father’s original black and white roll film negatives and the large format tonal graduation and quality was outstanding. One picture showed old wooden sailing barges, which once plied the Medway; this beautifully evocative picture, taken on a misty morning, intimately captured the atmosphere of the time. The presentation, together with Andrew’s commentary, was absolutely captivating and we were grateful to him for this fascinating glimpse of how Maidstone has changed and evolved over the years.

  We must also thank Elizabeth Marchant, who had so kindly and expertly arranged, together with some of our members, both lunch and tea, which added to a most enjoyable and instructive day.

 

 

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