The Organists Enter Town; Christopher Morley Reports on Birmingham's Growing Status as Britain's Capital of Organ Music
Byline: Christopher Morley
A week of events featuring three of the great organs of Birmingham later this month will symbolise the city's developing reputation as the country's capital of organ music.
They reflect the mounting preparations for the eventual move of the Royal College of Organists away from its London base to the historic Curzon Street railway station in the heart of Birmingham's developing Eastside.
The centrepiece is the RCO's Performer of the Year festival, held for the first time in Birmingham since its founding in 1986. Ten international contestants battle out the quarterfinals on Monday September 16 in St Chad's Cathedral, each playing a 20-minute programme of selected works by Bach, de Grigny, and either Widor or Stanford in front of an eminent jury headed by artistic director and Birmingham city organist Thomas Trotter.
A lucky six will go through to Wednesday's semi-finals in Symphony Hall, where their programme has to include Durufle's Prelude et Fugue sur le nom d'Alain and a work written after 1960, among their own choice of music.
Saturday evening brings three finalists to Symphony Hall, each playing a different concerto with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra under the exciting young conductor Rumon Gamba, himself a musician who came to fame through the winning of a competition.
'The logistics of arranging all this have been tremendous,' admits competition administrator Jane Allsopp.
'One room of my house is currently full of five copies of everything every contestant plans to play all week - and that has involved all degrees of organisation from the competitors, some of whom have been more methodical than others, I have to say.'
A full programme of events has been arranged around the competition itself, beginning with a recital at Symphony Hall on the Monday lunchtime from Clive Driskill-Smith, RCO Performer of the Year in 2000, the last time the competition was held.
His programme features works by Liszt, Bach, Franck and Durufle, and members of the jury intend to break off their deliberations at St Chad's at the other end of town and come up to the recital.
'It will mean a very fast taxiride,' says Allsopp.
The afternoon of Friday September 20 sees jury member Peter Hurford holding a masterclass at St Chad's Cathedral with student organists from Birmingham Conservatoire, Keble College, Oxford, and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. That evening another jury member, American organist Todd Wilson improvises at Symphony Hall to accompany a showing of the 1925 silent film Phantom of the Opera, starring Lon Chaney. …