Pull Out All The Stops – Restoration work


Follow the link to watch a film of the incredible restoration work which took place in September 2011 at the organ builders Harrison & Harrison Ltd in Durham.

Pull Out All The Stops – Launch video, September 2010

Here is the video we created to launch the campaign to restore the Royal Festival Hall organ back in September 2010.

Progress update on the Royal Festival Hall Organ – July 2011

The organ builders at Harrison & Harrison are currently working on constructing the framework of the central section of the organ. At the lowest level of the framework, the wind reservoirs are already in place and a handful of soundboards for the pipework are also in position.


The new spotted metal 16ft Pedal Principal is currently being constructed in heavy gauge metal. In order to prevent the pipes from sagging under their own weight in years to come (a fault with some of the largest pipes, as designed in 1954), zinc sleeves have been made to reinforce the pipe feet. The metal has been cast for these pipes and the photos show the first stages of them being soldered and put together on the benches.

The central display of tin and copper pipes, known as the monogram, has been found to be coated in a lacquer which is not from the original design and, in addition, yellow nicotine traces can be seen on the tin pipes because smoking was permitted in the hall during the 1950s.

One important question has been to understand how the pipes looked in 1954. As there are no surviving colour photos of the pipes as first installed, it has only been possible to understand how the pipes looked in 1954 by studying footage of a BBC film of Gillian Weir playing the organ in the mid 1960s. Although the colours in the film are rather faded, they allow us to see that that these pipes were probably originally intended as vibrant and contrasting design elements and, after discussion with the organ builders, it has been decided that the pipes will be cleaned and restored to allow this effect to re-emerge.

OAE and Simon Rattle

Sir Simon Rattle has been associated with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment almost since the foundation of the Orchestra, with his first appearance being in 1987, a year after the OAE’s first concert. Today he is one of the OAE’s three Principal Artists and in this video OAE players talk about what makes him such a special conductor to work with.



See Simon Rattle conduct the OAE at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall on Tuesday 21 June. Get tickets here. 


Lang Lang Inspires, a triumph!


Congratulations to all who performed on Sunday as part of the Massed Piano event. A fantastic day by all accounts and reviews are rolling in for the Lang Lang Inspires week.

‘Superb’ says The Guardian. ‘Lang Lang’s solo recital of Chopin’s Op 25 Etudes has been called ‘Technically stupendous, it’s parallel thirds, sixths and octaves flung out with an athleticism that was simply riveting’, his performance of Mendelssohn’s D Minor Trio accompanied by Vadim Repin and Mischa Maisky ‘exquisite’ and his young accompanists at the Massed Piano day ‘outstanding’.’

‘One man who heard him for the first time on Tuesday rushed to share his emotions on Lang Lang’s Twitter feed: “My first experience of a classical concert seeing you tonight,” Jack Squires wrote. “I feel inspired by your talent.”’(Reuters)

We are looking forward to reading more reviews and will keep updating as they come in. Don’t forget, you can buy tickets for the next installment in February 2012: Buy tickets / More info

Behind the scenes: Corinthian Chamber Orchestra

In a evening of passion and romance, Corinthian Chamber Orchestra and Adrian Brown pair Dvořák’s much-loved cello concerto and Rachmaninov’s monumental Third Symphony.

It is amazing to think that Dvořák procrastinated for years over an existing commission for a cello concerto, considering the instrument insufficient to carry the solo part. Brahms appears to have thought the same; despite having composed his double concerto for violin and cello in 1887, he is reported as saying of Dvořák’s work, ‘If I had known that it was possible to compose such a concerto for the cello, I would have tried it myself!’

We caught up with the orchestra in rehearsals and have these behind the scenes shots with some of the members.

Catch the Corinthian Chamber Orchestra on Tuesday 28 June at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. Get tickets here.

Ardittis prepare for Birtwistle premiere

Even after having hundreds of pieces composed for them, the players of the Arditti Quartet still look forward to the prospect of a world premiere. ‘It’s a challenge to bring a piece to the public, to actually take the dots off the paper and make it sound like something,’ says Irvine Arditti, first violinist and founder of the ensemble. ‘It is still pleasing to give premieres, as it is to give second performances and indeed 29th performances.’ 

This is a reference to The Tree of Strings, Harrison Birtwistle’s second string quartet. The Ardittis have performed the piece a remarkable 28 times since its 2008 premiere, testament to its popularity with both the quartet and audiences. ‘Everywhere we play it people just love the piece. I think it’s amazing because Harry was reluctant to write a string quartet yet he managed to write a masterpiece.’ 

Why would Birtwistle need, as Arditti puts it, ‘a little encouragement from me’ to compose for string quartet? ‘I think that as a clarinettist he felt he didn’t know as much about strings as he does about woodwinds and percussion, but in fact with both of his string quartets he’s proved he knows very much indeed. They’re both extremely well written for the instruments.’

The thirty-minute single-movement work was inspired by Birtwistle’s time on the Scottish island of Raasay, although, as a performer, Arditti doesn’t draw directly from the history of the piece. ‘I don’t know if I can relate to it programmatically, but we certainly never get bored with it. It’s a challenging but hugely worthwhile piece to play.’

Unsurprisingly for such a successful work, a disc is on the way. ‘We recorded it with the 9 Movements [Birtwistle’s first quartet], so there will be a release early next year of both quartets, which shall inspire him to write another one,’ says Arditti wryly.

Returning to world premieres and this evening sees another work added to the Arditti Quartet’s venerable list of first performances: Robert Saxton’s third quartet. ‘I know some of Robert’s music, but not a lot of it well,’ says Arditti. ‘He is, in some ways, a more classical composer than the Arditti Quartet is used to playing. It’s interesting to start a relationship with Robert because we are normally linked with composers like Birtwistle but it’s good to have other associations too.’

With two very different pieces on the programme, the ‘beautiful, classically-orientated’ Saxton which ‘stands out as being in quite a different style to Birtwistle,’ the quartet felt the need to programme an opening work that fell in between. They chose Kaija Saariaho’s Terra Memoria, a work not composed for the quartet. But, as Arditti says: ‘Some music we feel we need to play and this piece is one of them’.

Such musical curiosity is a hallmark of the Arditti Quartet. For Irvine Arditti, performing new music is both a privilege and a duty. ‘I’m aware that what we do is the initial impression of a piece. For many string quartets over the years, our interpretations have been considered authentic and what the composers wanted because we work with them. I think that’s quite an important responsibility for whatever style of music it is we’re playing.’

© Tim Woodall, 2011

The Arditti Quartet gives the London premiere of Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s Tree of Strings tomorrow, Tuesday 10 May, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Both Sir Harrison Birtwistle and Robert Saxton will take part in a post-concert discussion on stage. Click here to book.