The Organ Festival

From its embryonic beginnings and birth four years ago, our Kent County Organists’ Association’s annual Organ Festival has reached a maturity that indelibly marks it in the music calendar. The Festival committee succeeded this year in bringing together a cornucopia of talent and enthusiasm, with a celebrity recitalist and seven aspiring young musicians whose outstanding musicianship was lavished upon us at All Saints’ Church, Maidstone on 16th May. Dr David Flood, Canterbury Cathedral’s Organist and Master of the Choristers, again agreed to adjudicate for us, his expertise and avuncular charm pervading the morning. We also have a new Festival Patron, Margaret Phillips, Professor of Organ at the Royal College of Music, who, as well as lending her support during the morning, gave an outstanding recital later in the day.

The seven Festival entrants ranged in age from eleven to twenty-one, they were:

Aidan Atkinson, aged eleven, a music scholar at Worth School and a member of the National Children’s Orchestra (Viola).

Seth Fleming, aged thirteen, a Music Scholar at Ardingly College Junior School who has just won a senior school scholarship at Ardingly.

Jacob Ewens, aged fifteen, is a “Remove” Music Scholar at The King’s School Canterbury, having been head-chorister at Westminster Abbey.

Alexander Bliss, also fifteen, is a Music Scholar at Ardingly College and a student at St. Giles International Organ School studying with Anne Marsden Thomas.

Matthew Joryz, aged sixteen, is a Music Scholar at Brentwood School. He also studies with Ann Elise Smoot and is a member of the St. Giles Junior Organ Conservatoire.

Jonathan Yip, aged seventeen, is a Sixth Form Music Scholar at The King’s School Canterbury and intends to audition for Oxbridge organ scholarships this September.

Jonathan Hope, aged twenty-one, was educated at George Abbot School Guildford moving on to study at the Royal College of Music in 2007; he studies with Margaret Phillips and improvisation with Sophie-Veronique Chauchefer-Choplin.

The All Grades open class, specified a piece of the candidate’s choice, but played using only the organ’s flutes, strings, oboe, clarinet, nazard, flautina and twenty-second, with soft pedal stops. This class proved popular, attracting six of the seven contestants and Dr Flood thoughtfully lightened the atmosphere by pulling their names from an ice-cream tub to overcome the problem of playing in alphabetical order.

Margaret Phillips, Dr David Flood and candidates

First to play was Aidan Atkinson who chose Zu Bethlehem Geboren by Helmut Walcha, his steady assured playing capturing the style and mood of the piece. Then, Alexander Bliss played Prière à Notre-Dame by Léon Boëllmann with well-chosen registrations and musically flowing phrasing. Seth Fleming followed with Herzich Lieb Hab Ich Dich, O Herr by Gottfried Kirchoff, with singing choir mutation melodies and beautifully flowing arpeggios. Jacob Ewens chose Piece no. 7 by Frank Bridge (From a Little Organ Book in memory of Hubert Parry) displaying richly unfolding strings and controlled legato playing. Diderik Buxtehude’s Komm Heiliger Geist, Herr Gott was chosen by Matthew Joryz, one of last year’s winners, his well-chosen mutations illuminating the music’s melodic lines. Lastly, Jonathan Yip settled on the organ stool to play Trio Sonata No 1 – 1st movement by J S Bach. Although there was perhaps just a hint of initial nerves, his musical phrasing and technique were quite stunning and with this fluent musical performance Dr David Flood unhesitatingly awarded him the All Grades prize.

Jacob Ewens was the only candidate for the Intermediate section and his performance of Prelude in A major bwv 536 by J S Bach displayed some steady playing with engaging registrations. His Petit Piece by Jongen, provided clear, articulate and assured playing. Quite rightly, Dr Flood awarded him the Intermediate prize.

Three players contested the Advanced class: Jonathan Hope, Matthew Joryz and Jonathan Yip. The set pieces were Fugue in G major bwv 541 by J S Bach and Canon in B minor by R Schumann. Matthew’s Schumann was well phrased and articulate with his Bach displaying assured clarity in the part playing. Jonathan Yip’s Schumann was beautifully detailed and his bold articulation and colour in the Bach was quite breathtaking. But after much thought and deliberation by Dr Flood, the Advanced class was awarded to Jonathan Hope. His Schumann especially captured the distinctive romantic style of the music, and his Bach had excitement, clarity and a singing musicality.

Two other prizes were awarded: one for the best first time entrant to all classes, this went, without hesitation, to Jonathan Yip, and the other was the candidate to have made the most advancement since last year’s Festival, which was justly awarded to Matthew Joryz.

This concluded the main Festival judging, but with Dr David Flood available for a little longer it was the turn of one of our members to receive some tuition in a short master class. Kevin Grafton had graciously — some would say bravely — volunteered to play for Dr Flood and he chose Paean by Herbert Howells. Allowing Kevin to play, Dr Flood listened, pondered and stroked his nose sagely before stopping the piece before the end, analysing tempo, phrasing, articulation and much more. With Kevin putting suggestions into practice, the music began to convey the shape, form and texture of the composer’s intentions. It was a revealing exercise and Dr Flood’s analytical but kindly approach, not only in the master class but throughout the whole morning, provided us all with much to assimilate.

Dr Flood conducts a master class

Following a fine buffet lunch there was time for trips to the top of the tower or a conducted tour of the church before we settled down to an illustrated talk by Deputy President, Colin Jilks. As an organ builder he had been able to assemble a collection of photographs of some of the organs he cares for. These were chosen to illustrate not just the pipe displays and cases, but also the interior workings of tracker, pneumatic and electric actions. This interesting digital slide show included organs dating from a 1760 Snetzler to a 1971 Hill Norman & Beard, and included many fine organs, some in quite prestigious London locations.

The eagerly awaited celebrity recital by Margaret Phillips was at 5.00 p.m. which gave time beforehand for a bountiful kcoa tea, beautifully served in All Saints’ College rooms.

Margaret Phillips is Professor of Organ at the Royal College of Music, London. She started her musical life under Trevor Webb at Sittingbourne Grammar School, before moving on to the Kent Music School where she had instruction in violin, piano, theory and orchestral playing. During a Kent Youth Orchestra visit to Berlin she successfully auditioned to play in the orchestra under Karajan.

Her Festival recital was wide ranging, starting with Weber, then two Bach pieces, followed by Mendelssohn, Guilmant and Gottschalk (a piece arranged by Trevor Webb) finishing with Prélude et Danse Fuguée by Gaston Litaize. Margaret beautifully prefaced each piece, with just the right amount of information to aid our appreciation. Notwithstanding her petite stature and hands that only just stretch the octave, her seemingly effortless technique has a transparency, which allows the listener unimpeded access to the music. With her innate musicality and orchestral experience she is endowed with the ability to reveal a work’s innermost detail; unquestionably, her Bach Prelude & Fugue in A minor bwv543, had a breath-taking lyricism and musicianship not often heard.

Margaret Phillips FRCO

This well attended recital concluded a full and rewarding day. Some may have been unable to attend the whole day, but for those who did, it will remain indelibly etched in the memory.

 

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