Despite the impression we give off* there’s a soupçon more to London in Stereo than gabber, cheap amphetamines and regretful kebabs at 4.37am. Indeed, the majority of the time we’re a class act: your red wine set that don’t just choose the bottle that goes with a meal deal, your fans of that art show where Fiona Bruce and her gang work out if paintings are fake or not. You know the type.
In the spirit of such classiness, we’re really very happy to have the opportunity to introduce Organ Reframed to you, a festival celebrating, investigating and rejoicing in the past, present and future contributions to the music world of this unique instrument. With a mixture of film, intimate solo sets, improvisations and larger scale commissions, the five events over the weekend will not be po-faced and exclusive, but rather celebratory, sensorial and entirely inclusive. A chance to really re-think the instrument.
We’ve invited the festival’s artistic director, Claire M Singer, to talk us through five pieces of music that sum-up the weekend, and we’re slightly blown away by the quality and quantity of the contribution, so we think it’s best if we just let you get lost in this astonishing music. Kudos, also, to Claire for including a piece by herself – a rarity in these features we want to see more of. And what a track it is, too: almost Sunn o((( like in its enveloping portentousness…
Volumina für Orgel
Written by György Ligeti and performed by Dominik Susteck
‘Volumina’ by György Ligeti is without a doubt where the journey of this playlist should begin. The 1962 work launched what was considered a “revolution” of organ music (in both sound and organ notation) and has remained an important landmark in the development of the organ repertoire today. The work begins with all the stops pulled out and every key of one manual depressed, so as you can imagine the organist needs at least two assistants present. In preparation for the premiere a practice session on the Göteborg organ caused the motor of the organ to go up in flames! The premiere was due to take place at Bremen Cathedral but when the church council heard about the fire they cancelled the performance and a tape recording of the piece performed by Karl-Erik Welin’s at Göteborg was played instead. In 1968 Welin finally premiered the revised version of ‘Volumina’ in Kiel.
The work is an exploration of moving clusters as blocks of sound. The score is a work of art in itself where Ligeti indicates the general pitch areas and durations by using thick black lines and wavy lines to instruct a brief flurry of individual notes. The turning off of the organ whilst the pipes are still engaged also creates a stunning effect as the wind escapes the pipes slowly until its very last breath. ‘Volumina’ is hugely significant in introducing a new timbral sound world to the organ repertoire, which completely resonates with what Organ Reframed is all about.
The Passion of Joan of Arc (Extract)
Written by Irene Buckley
I was first introduced to Irene’s music in 2013 when we invited her over to perform her beautiful score for Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (organ, electronics and soprano). Union Chapel presented the perfect setting for this heart-wrenching classic made all the more emotional by Irene’s evocative music. I’m absolutely thrilled Irene has agreed to a brand new commission for the launch of Organ Reframed on Friday 7th October when she will perform her new score (organ, electronics, viola and cello) for F. W. Murnau’s gothic masterpiece Nosferatu.
The Revd Mustard his Installation Prelude
Written by Nico Muhly, performed by James McVinnie
I first met James when I started working at Union Chapel in 2012. He would occasionally come in for a practice session and I used to sit in the vestry (my old office) and get completely distracted by him playing in the chapel. I found myself on many occasions dropping everything and running through to ask “what’s that you’re playing!?” I’m always impressed by the diverse repertoire he has at his fingertips and his openness and enthusiasm towards the development of new music for organ. This track is taken from his album Cycles, which comprises of thirteen organ pieces by Nico Muhly who he has closely collaborated with for years. James will be performing alongside Irene Buckley, Robert Ames and Laura Moody for the premiere of Buckley’s new score for Nosferatu and he will also be premiering five new works for organ and strings alongside the London Contemporary Orchestra by Craig Armstrong, Mark Fell, Alex Groves, Catherine Lamb and Chaines on Sunday 9th October.
Written and performed by Claire M Singer, recorded at Union Chapel 2016
On Saturday 8th October Organ Reframed features Spire, an experimental music programme presented by Touch, involving Charles Matthews, Fennesz, Philip Jeck, Simon Scott, John Beaumont, The Eternal Chord and myself. I met Mike Harding from Touch a couple of years back when a mutual friend suggested our meeting knowing our shared love of organs! It was clear from the get go that Mike and I were most definitely on the same page and it turned out we had been running similar programmes involving organ, organ and electronics and all sorts of other combinations for years. We have now joined forces and I’m very excited to not only have Spire involved in the first Organ Reframed but also that the evening will include myself performing ‘The Molendinar’ from my debut album Solas on Touch, written specifically for the 1877 Henry Willis organ at Union Chapel.
Designed and built for the space our organ is known for its beautiful sound and is often referred to as the Rolls Royce of all organs. It is one of very few left with fully restored water hydraulic power which can be used as an alternative to electric blowing and it has mechanical draw-stop action. The latter means that you have complete control over how much wind enters the pipe. This precise control can produce some incredibly delicate harmonics, some almost inaudible. ‘The Molendinar’ is an intense exploration of this technique slowly building to the use of all manuals and all stops.
Fennesz – Live in La Petite Chapelle
Written and performed by Christian Fennesz
“Imagine the electric guitar severed from cliché and all of its physical limitations, shaping a bold new musical language.” – City Newspaper, USA
I had to include this beautiful live recording of Fennesz playing at a previous Spire in Geneva Cathedral St. Pierre. This work presents another approach to this extraordinary instrument showing the breadth of possibility. Fennesz will be performing at Spire on the Saturday 8th October.
*We’re v.aware we do not give off this impression – and for good reason.