Sadly silent for many years the Organ that is the architectural lynch pin of the concert hall at the Royal Festival Hall is back in full voice after a full restoration. The Royal Festival is celebrating its return to health with a series of concerts and organ related events. On Saturday I headed to the Southbank with Mr Cultural Wednesday and the junior CW’s: we had pre-booked free tickets for some of the activities but for others we just turned up.
We started our day with a concert MEET THE ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL ORGAN in which the Organ Curator William McVicker introduced us to the four keyboards – manuals in organ language and 103 stops, via splendid renditions of organ classics interspersed with informative chat. We also got to hear from Andrew Scott, Head tuner with Harrison and Harrison who both made and restored the organ. It took Mr Scott three months to tune all 7,866 pipes, , working at night with one colleague. It is only in hearing the organ played that you understand his solitary art.
In between each activity we had to spend time in the singing lift. At sub-basement level you are greeted with a baritone ‘Level One’ and as you ascend the lift sings an ascending scale. When you reach the top it sings out ‘Level Six’ in ringing falsetto tone. Level Six is home to the members bar with sweeping views across the Thames, worth the price of membership alone.
Next the lift serenaded us down to level 1 where the junior CW’s to were given the chance to play a real live organ. Marilyn Harper asked them to play a piece they already knew on the piano and then showed them how to embellish the tune with stops, foot keyboards and the swell. . No, Juniors, we cannot have an organ at home.
Lunch now beckoned and we each chose a different cuisine from the range offered by the 40 stalls in Real Food Market at the back of the Royal Festival Hall. The sun was shining, so we sat in sun and ate our respective burger, lamb wrap, hot dog and chaat.
Back indoors for an introduction to some of the ancient instruments that were the inspirations for a selection of the organ pipes. First up, a crumhorn that looked like a walking stick but sounds like the sound track to every Tudor drama you have ever seen. Onward through consorts, recorders, sackbuts (which are the forerunners of the trombone) , cornets and finally to the bagpipes. At the end of the talk we all got to try out several instruments. No, Mr Cultural Wednesday, we cannot have bagpipes at home.
Radio 3 has taken up residence in Royal Festival Hall’s Riverside Café until March 31, it has installed a temporary glass studio and will be broadcasting a selection of its shows live from it. You stand outside and gawp at a real live radio presenter or borrow headphones with Radio 3 streamed to them. In addition producers are on hand to answer questions and there will be the opportunity to mix your own multi-track recording.
This was a well-run event and a great experience, but the RFH Organ is definitely the star of the show. Even if you do not make it to the current programme of events, it would certainly be worth attending an organ concert there at any other time.
PULL OUT ALL THE THE STOPS RUNS until June 26 full information can be found at www.southbankcentre.co.uk
If you want to listen to organ concerts then many churches and cathedrals have regular concerts full listings can be found at www.londonorgan.co.uk