Alexander Woodrow is the sixth 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 tell us a little about your organ recital in April?
I’m playing four pieces. From Germany, there’s a substantial Prelude and Fugue by J.S. Bach, which is a wonderful and intense piece that’s fifteen-minutes long, with brilliant counterpoint and chromatic harmony.
Then by Cesar Franck, a Belgium-born composer who spent most of his life working in France, we have the Pièce Héroïque. That really comes alive with the punchy swell reeds of the Bradford Cathedral organ, and the sense of space that the building’s lofty proportions lend it It’s a superb example of Romantic 19th century organ writing.
On top of that I’m playing some neo-classical variations by a 20th century Dutch composer called Hendrick Andriessen, written with bright and crisp neo-baroque instruments in mind. They are a really intriguing set of variations, all with different registrations and textures.
Then finally from England, the D minor Fantasia and Toccata by C.V. Stanford, which is written very much for an English romantic instrument, which allows me to draw upon the warmer colours of the Bradford organ, some of them of historically appropriate Victorian and Edwardian vintage.
Does having that variety in a programme showcase what the organ can sound like?
I think any recital attendant likes to hear a balanced programme. When selecting a programme I try to balance different sounds, different eras and different degrees of variation in dynamics. I think it will work out as quite a colourful programme. I’ve realised that, in retrospect, every single piece is in a minor key but it’s certainly not a depressing programme! It has plenty of variety, contrast and energy.
Alongside your organ recital here in February, that month is also an exciting time for you in terms of a new role?
It is, because I’m moving for at least half of the week back to Yorkshire to take up the role of Director of Music at Leeds Minster, so it will be lovely to be in the next city across from Bradford and indeed to have the cathedral just twenty minutes away from me.
I’ll be living in Shipley, which is very much the Bradford patch and only a few hundred yards from where I used to have a house in Saltaire, so it will be lovely to return to that neck of the woods as well.
You were the Director of Music at Bradford Cathedral as well?
Yes, I had a very enjoyable fourteen terms at Bradford and it was a very positive experience for me. I was very young at the time and it was a wonderful experience to make music at Bradford and to get fully involved with the chorister training, the outreach work, and the day to day work of the Cathedral Choir. I felt part of a warm community and met some amazing people.
You return to us in April with your coffee concert on piano. Have you got any sneak previews of what we can expect then?
That will be with my brother who is a professional violinist based over in Manchester. We don’t play that regularly together but occasionally in holidays, if we’re together in York, we have fun preparing different programmes. He’s put down quite a varied selection.
There’s some French Romantic music on the programme; a Mozart sonata which will be really super; a Moto Perpetuo by English Composer Frank Bridge; and some Lili Boulanger and Clara Schumann. Clara Schumann’s 200th anniversary of birth was just last year so it’s very nice that her work is being re-discovered and coming more to light. The Lili Boulanger piece was from around the time of the First World War and is very colourful: it sounds a bit like Debussy. I’m looking forward to that too, playing on the cathedral’s wonderful Steinway grand piano.
Finally, do you have any big plans for the year?
For me it’s about settling into Leeds and getting a handle on the music making there, getting fully immersed in that. It’s also becoming accustomed to the idea of having two geographical bases, as I’m going to be spending half of the week in the West Midlands continuing my piano and organ teaching work at Solihull School, and running that in parallel with the post at Leeds. I’m sure to be kept busy!
Join us for our weekly Wednesday@One Organ Recitals at 1pm, with a lunch buffet available from 12:30pm. Alexander Woodrow will be playing on Wednesday 19th 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.