Christopher Stokes of Manchester Cathedral is the fifth organist at our spring 2020 season of Wednesday@One. We spoke to him about his upcoming organ recital to find out what we can expect from his programme as well as finding out more about his career.
Could you give us background of how you got into music?
My prep school boasted a new organ – half-pipe, half-electronic. This was probably my first experience of anything to do with an organs. As I moved up into the senior part of the school, there was a chapel which had a three-manual Rushworth & Dreaper organ; from there, things took off!
You’ve performed with many British orchestras; what was that like to be involved with?
It is hugely exciting. Organists can become quite isolated in their organ lofts but I’ve been very lucky as I’ve always been an orchestral player alongside solo work, and I’ve always had that opportunity to get to know, from the inside, some of the great symphonic works, which have organ, piano or keyboard parts. There’s a kind of cross-fertilisation which happens as a part of doing that and it greatly influences one’s ability as a church musician.
How did you pick your pieces for the recital?
What I do normally is think about the organ first and foremost, and what the organ can do. Having cast an eye over the specification of the organ, you think about what time of day the recital is on. If it’s a lunchtime recital then you probably want some pieces that have challenge but not a big heavy programme. I think lunchtime audiences quite like to have something that they can take away with them for the afternoon and enjoy. There’s a piece I’m playing – L’ange à la trompette – by Jacques Charpentier which is quite challenging to the ear and certainly to the player, but there are pieces like Crown Imperial and some early music as well. I like to have a wide selection of music so everyone can get something out of it.
You teach young organists; is it important to spark that love of music in young people?
Oh yes. Performing and teaching is what I do, and it’s such a great privilege to work at Chetham’s as the head of organ studies, and to influence the lives of our future performers. Many of the organists coming through the school are absolutely wonderful players and one fine example is Graham Thorpe, who was one of my pupils at Chetham’s. He’s a terrific player who is doing great things at Bradford Cathedral!
You’re a regular organist on the Daily Service on BBC Radio 4. Does playing for radio shape how you approach which music you play?
As any of my colleagues in the professional organ world will testify, there is always an added pressure when the red light goes on! The only way to reduce those inevitable nerves is through very careful and thorough practice – and that includes the hymns!
Finally, what are your plans for the rest of 2020?
I’ve got quite a few recitals coming up, including Leeds Town Hall and St John’s, Cambridge. My day-to-day work with the Cathedral Choir in Manchester and my teaching at Chetham’s is an essential part of my life. I’m also going over to Germany to do some concertos in June, so life is quite rich and varied!
Join us for our weekly Wednesday@One Organ Recitals at 1pm, with a lunch buffet available from 12:30pm. Christopher Stokes will be playing on Wednesday 12th February 2020. More information on this recital, all others and this season’s coffee concerts can be found in the programme available to buy from the recitals and concerts.