Grand Organ Gala Concert

Royal Albert Hall 15/5/18

The wonderful RAH Willis/Harrison organ is not played nearly enough and so it was a particular thrill to be part of the audience for this well supported concert – the culmination of a day of music-making, celebrating this instrument and exploring the world of organ music in general.

Three first class organists shared the bill and it was Wayne Marshall who opened the proceedings with a thrilling, if somewhat idiosyncratic rendition of Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D minor, BWV565.

He remained at the console to demonstrate a selection of stops as we were treated to a rare glimpse inside the organ. A guided tour from the genial and energetic Michael Broadway, custodian of the organ, as he climbed around inside with a cameraman – was relayed to the two large screens either side of the pipework and in dialogue with Tom Daggett, Organ Outreach Fellow at St Paul’s Cathedral, who proved to be an excellent MC throughout the evening.

The screens continued to enhance the music as we were treated to a superb performance of Liszt’s Fantasia & Fugue on B-A-C-H. Olivier Latry, was then introduced as the second organist. His first piece, Mozart’s Fantasia in F minor, K608, allowed for more variety of colours to be demonstrated. The audience appreciated his witty conversation and his enthusiasm (as he drew comparisons with organists wishing to play the works of Widor at St Sulpice) for being able to pay homage to former organist of the RAH, George Thalben-Ball. He then gave a dazzling performance of Thalben-Ball’s Variations on a theme of Paganini, the experience again enhanced by the screens making clear exactly what the organist’s feet have to do in order to play this piece!

The third organist, David Briggs, was introduced. After the interval he went on to play one of his celebrated transcriptions of an orchestral work, this time, Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite. This brought further contrast to the proceedings and highlighted the versatility and variety of effects possible through careful use of pistons and expression pedals and the ability to use the organ as a truly orchestral instrument.

Prior to this all three organists gave a fun and well co-ordinated performance of Widor’s Toccata in F.

The evening ended with another performance by all three, simply entitled, Concerto-Improvised, which I would have loved to have witnessed as all three performers are well-known for their improvisatory skill. Sadly, due to the limitations of the rail network, I had to leave before this. I was able, though, to enjoy the delightful rendition of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, with David Briggs playing the orchestral parts on the organ and Wayne Marshall in his other guise as solo pianist.

This was undeniably an evening of popular music but still with much of interest and variety. As a showcase for this marvellous instrument and for the organ in general it was superb. Entertaining and educational with much attention given to presentation and programming it drew a large, diverse and appreciative audience, I hope we shall see more of these events and that the organ may be recognised once more as a vital part of the general musical scene. Congratulations to all involved.

Stephen Page

Opus Theatre’s first World Series

A first World Series comes to The Opus Theatre, commencing this June with international professional musicians from across the world.

Speaking at the inauguration, pianist Oliver Poole, who is Artist In Residence for the series, said ‘As Artist in Residence, I am truly thrilled and honoured to welcome six incredible, inspirational and internationally renowned acts this year, together with the theatre’s director, composer and impresario Polo Piatti. The message of the series is simple: To Unite The World Through Music. I, with Polo  – together with the artists who will be arriving from all over the world – believe in one core principle: The power of music and its ability as a universal language to enlighten and bring change to our world. Each of the artists performing have stories to share, some serving as backdrops to their artistic endeavours. I am truly thankful to all of the artists for being part of the first ever World Series at The Opus Theatre. It is going to be a unique and inspirational celebration of music, storytelling and the human spirit, and we cannot wait to warmly welcome our artists and audiences for unforgettable experiences.’

More than anything else the promoters of the World Series want to ensure it is accessible to all, with music that is captivating and engaging without the need for previous study or understanding. Moreover, the series will be a not-for-profit venture, to enable as many people to attend as possible by keeping entry costs as low as is feasible.

The Opus Theatre in Hastings is considered one of the finest small concert halls in the South East. Formerly a non-conformist church, it is a Grade II listed building with superb natural acoustics.

It hosts the Phoenix Opus – a 9ft concert grand piano, one of the most technologically advanced instruments in the world. It was custom built to the venue’s exact specifications and finish, and constructed using the latest Phoenix technology including their carbon-fibre soundboard, fitted to a 1925 Blüthner Style XI acoustic body, widely considered as one of the finest acoustic bodies in existence. This makes the Phoenix Opus piano the concert grand with the biggest carbon-fibre soundboard in the United Kingdom.

The series opens on 9 June with soprano Carly Paoli and pianist Oliver Poole. Carly Paoli is internationally known for her wide repertoire and her appearances alongside many iconic singers including Andrea Bocelli and Elaine Page. Having appeared in venues as large as the O2 she is looking forward to the intimacy of the Opus Theatre and its possibilities for immediate engagement with the audience.

The next visitor is the Portuguese pianist Pedro Gomes on 16th June followed by Blato Zlato bringing fiery Balkan music from the swamps of New Orleans.

Later performances will include Marcelo Bratke from Brazil, Iranian tenor Ramtin Ghazavi and cellist Nina Kotova.

Full details are available on