How did you get into music?
I was a choir boy. As a small boy I was taking to church by my parents and I was fascinated by the organ. I went to a wonderful little private primary school run by a lady who ran a school in her own home and she gave piano lessons to selected pupils. She had the most beautiful grand piano in her front room, and she persuaded my parents that I should have piano lessons even though we didn’t have a piano at home at the time. I practised at school on another piano and at my next door neighbour’s. She was wonderful, as she knew that for a small boy, one lesson a week was not enough, and that half-an-hour was too long, so I ended up with two twenty-minute lessons a week, which was ideal.
For you, what makes a good organ recital?
I think a lot depends on the programming. Whatever your concert, you have to choose your programme carefully to suit the occasion and suit the audience. For instance, for a lunchtime recital, one might choose totally different music for that audience or a celebrity recital or an opening of a new instrument. In Bradford this recital falls in Lent, near Passiontide, so I’m opening with a magnificent piece by Liszt called Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, which means weeping, lamentation, angst, worry and despair. It’s very dramatic! It’s based on music that Liszt has borrowed from Bach, and a cantata of the same name. But Liszt’s variations go a great deal further than Bach’s. But at the end Liszt ends the same way as Bach, with the chorale “What God does is done well”, and the wonderful plain harmonies after the angst and storm that has gone before has such a wonderful calming effect.
That will be a dramatic start to the concert, and I then continue with a complete contrast with Saint-Saëns and his Fantasie ii in D flat. Liszt declared Saint-Saëns as the finest organist in the world and he used to sit beside Saint-Saëns’ console on a Sunday service. This piece is very lyrical, full of lovely colours, and inventive new textures. It’s very easy on the ear, and lyrical.
I finish with Toccata, Fugue & Hymne “Ave maris stella” by Peeters. A lot of people like a concert to end with a French toccata! You could hardly avoid his music in the middle of the last century; everybody was playing him in the 1950s-70s. But, after his death, he’s gone right out of fashion but his music is as good as it always was.
What are your plans for the rest of 2020?
I’m playing in a number of places this year. A big thrill will be to play in the Abbey of St. Florian in Austria where Bruckner was the organist, and indeed he’s buried underneath the organ! It’s known as the Bruckner organ, and it’ll be a great privilege to play there and I’ll combine it with a few days holiday in Vienna. I’ve been there once, back in 1997, when I played with Sir Simon Rattle, and I was there accompanying the children’s choir in Britten’s War Requiem on the organ. I remember it because the organ in Bath was being re-built at the time and I brought a torte back for the builders; they were delighted!