Saturday, 20 April 2013

Historic organ returns home

St John's Church, Notting Hill
In 1794 William and Robert Gray built a new organ for the west gallery of Holy Trinity Church, Clapham. This is the period that Holy Trinity was home to William Wilberforce, the anti-slavery campaigner and gave the name to the Clapham Sect. The sect was active from 1790 to 1830, the period when the organ was built at the church. In 1846 the organ was purchased, second hand, for the new church of St John in Notting Hill. The organ was placed, relatively unchanged, in the west gallery. But changes to worship habits, with the introduction of a robed choir in the chancel, led to the organ being moved to the Lady Chapel in 1873. This meant the loss of the 1794 case. Remarkably much of this organ survives today and its restoration is being celebrated at a concert on 11 May given by Thomas Trotter.

In 1885 the organ was upgraded and reconstructed but much of the pipework survived as did two of the three original sound boards. At this time the Great Organ was given a Barker lever action, this was a revolutionary new pneumatic action which lightened the pressure needed on the keys. This type of action was expensive and only used on larger organs, it was only made for a few years, before being superceded.  The organ of St John's Church is one of the few left with a working Barke lever action. Amazingly, little has happened to the organ since then. Now St John's Church is reaching the end of a restoration project which will see the organ relocated to a more suitable acoustic position, thus releasing the Lady Chapel for liturgical use, and a new organ case (retaining the 1873 side case).

The restored organ is being launched at a concert on 11 May 2013, which is part of the Mayfest 2013 celebrations. Thomas Trotter will give a recital at 8pm, performing a programme which includes music by Bach. John Bull, Messiaen, Elgar, Vierne (Carillon de Westminster), Goss-Custard, Guilmant and Trotter's own arrangement of Eric Coates' Knightsbridge March. The concert is preceded at 7pm by a talk from John Norman, the organ specialist who advised on the organ restoration. There is also a new permanent exhibition about the history of the organ.

The organ restoration is part of a wider restoration project at the Church, restoring the historic fabric and modernising where necessary. 

There is more information about Thomas Trotter's concert at the Notting Hill MayFest website. Other events include performances of John Adams Chamber Symphony and Kate Whitley's Organ Concerto, Aeolian Court Opera in La Boheme and much else besides.

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