Friday 22 March 2024

Organ Reborn! Norwich Cathedral Organ Festival: A new music festival for Norwich

Norwich Cathedral Organ (Photo: Bill Smith/Norwich Cathedral)
Norwich Cathedral Organ (Photo: Bill Smith/Norwich Cathedral)

From an epic concert featuring three Cathedral Choirs to the ‘Battle of the Organs’, audiences will be able to enjoy a whole week of musical festivities at Norwich Cathedral in July marking the return of the Cathedral’s historic pipe organ as part of the first Norwich Cathedral Organ Festival.   

Norwich Cathedral Organinsts (Photo: Bill Smith/Norwich Cathedral)
Norwich Cathedral Organists (Photo: Bill Smith/Norwich Cathedral)

In fact, this special summer festival (generously underwritten by the Statham Society which supports the musical life of Norwich Cathedral) has been carefully planned to coincide with the first anniversary of the organ’s return following its ambitious rebuild by Harrison & Harrison. Therefore, Organ Reborn! Norwich Cathedral Organ Festival, runs from Saturday 6th to Sunday 14th July featuring three headline concerts, six organ recitals, a couple of talks and so much more!  

‘We are really excited to be celebrating the return of Norwich Cathedral’s historic pipe organ,’ said Ashley Grote, the Cathedral’s Master of Music. ‘And with this special festival it will showcase the organ in all its consummate glory with nine days of wonderful events.  

‘From big concerts and services to talks and school workshops, there’s surely something for everyone wrapped up in this festival. We sincerely hope people from all walks of life will come along to hear some incredible music being played on Norwich Cathedral’s magnificent instrument.’  

Mr Grote further added: ‘The festival week will also bring internationally-renowned organists to Norwich as well as world-class ensembles such as the BBC Singers and the Britten Sinfonia.  

‘The opening concert, therefore, sees Norwich Cathedral Choir join forces with the neighbouring choirs of Ely and Peterborough cathedrals to deliver a Three Choirs Special in what promises a thrilling and telling programme of choral favourites. There’ll also be a school’s programme running throughout the week, a family-friendly ‘Battle of the Organs’ concert and a silent movie complete with ‘live’ organ accompaniment. All these events will run alongside our daily schedule of choral services, one of which will be broadcast ‘live’ on BBC Radio 3 during festival week.’  

The Dean of Norwich, the Very Revd Dr Andrew Braddock, said: ‘Norwich Cathedral is delighted that the festival will celebrate the amazing breadth and diversity of which organ music is capable. Across a whole range of styles and performances, the festival invites the wider community to experience organ music in all its versatile brilliance.’  

The festival will open in style on Saturday, 6 July, 7pm, with Norwich Cathedral Choir joining forces with the choirs of Ely and Peterborough for a concert featuring choral favourites including Parry’s I was glad, Handel’s Zadok the Priest and Wesley’s Blessed be the God and Father. Ashley Grote, Edmund Aldhouse and Tansy Castledine jointly conduct what promises a marvellous and invigorating concert featuring Norwich Cathedral organists, David Dunnett and Robbie. Tickets £15-£35.  

A festive treat, too, is in store on Sunday, 7 July, 10.30am, with Organ Festival Eucharist, a special and celebratory service featuring Norwich Cathedral Choir accompanied by members of Norwich Baroque. Music includes Haydn’s Missa brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo ( the Little Organ Mass).   

In the afternoon of the same day, Organ Festal Evensong (3.30pm) features Norwich Cathedral Choir singing William Walton’s Chichester Service and the festival anthem, The Twelve (free admission) while in the evening of 7 July (8pm), Norwich Cathedral’s assistant organist, Robbie Carroll, will perform an organ solo transcription of Holst’s The Planets with the upper voices of Norwich Cathedral’s Chamber Choir offering their ethereal voices to the final movement ‘Neptune - the mystic’. Free admission. Retiring collection.   

Youth at the helm! WOOFYT! The Wooden One-Octave Organ for Young Technologists being held in the Weston Room (Monday, 8 July - all day) will be followed by a further couple of sessions (Wednesday, 10 July - morning) / (Thursday, 11 July - all day), is aimed at primary schoolchildren wanting fun while learning about music.   

During the workshops, they’ll build a section of a pipe organ, learn how science and music go together and get a chance to visit the organ loft to view the console of Norwich Cathedral’s spectacular 102-stop pipe organ. To book, primary schools should email Unfortunately, there cannot be any individual booking.   

There’ll also be a WOOFYT! workshop for ‘grown-ups’, too, in the Weston Room (Wednesday, 10 July, 1pm) offering adults everything they want to know about organ design and construction. Tickets £5. Booking via TicketSource.  

Whilst also in the Weston Room (Tuesday, 9 July, 3pm) David Briggs, an internationally-acclaimed organist and improviser and artist-in-residence at the Cathedral of St John the Divine, New York City, will give a talk on Pierre Cochereau (born 9 July 1924) organist of Notre Dame de Paris from 1955 to 1984. By all accounts, he led an extraordinary and fulfilling life not just as an organist but also as an improviser and composer as well. Tickets £5. And being a celebrated exponent of the organ music of the 20th-century French tradition, Mr Briggs will also perform a programme of French organ works on the same day at 8pm. Tickets £12. Seating unreserved.  

And a further event in the Weston Room (Friday, 12 July, 3pm, tickets £5) offers a talk on Organ Reborn! by Andrew Scott, managing director of Harrison & Harrison Organs, who undertook the 2023 rebuild of the organ and Canon Nicholas Thistlewaite, who acted as the independent advisor to the Dean and Chapter. They’ll give a ‘behind-the-scenes’ talk and presentation about this ambitious project which has ensured that the music of Norwich Cathedral’s organ will be enjoyed by future generations. Tickets £6.  

Norwich Cathedral on air! Choral Evensong (Wednesday, 10 July, 3pm) will be broadcast ‘live’ on BBC Radio 3 featuring Norwich Cathedral Choir led by the Cathedral’s Master of Music, Ashley Grote, with organist extraordinaire, David Dunnett. Music includes Stanford’s Evening service in C and Parry’s Hear my words, ye people. Free admission. Members of the congregation must be seated by 2.45pm.  

Acclaimed JS Bach specialist, Anne Page, will give a recital of works by this great German composer and musician of the late Baroque period (Monday, 8 July, 8pm) in what promises an exciting and popular programme.   

Born and educated in Perth, Australia, Page, who, incidentally, has been an advocate in reviving the humble harmonium as a mainstream instrument, moved to Europe to continue advanced studies successively with Marie-Claire Alain, Peter Hurford and Jacques van Oortmerssen.   

Based in Cambridge, she directed the Cambridge Summer Recitals for eight years presenting a host of world and UK first performances and bringing several major recitalists from Europe to Britain for the first time. She made her London début playing a 20th-century repertoire at the Royal Festival Hall. Tickets £12. Seating unreserved.  

And star of the organ world and, indeed, social media sensation, Anna Lapwood, will put the newly-rebuilt organ thoroughly through its paces in her recital on Friday, 12 July, 8pm. Attending Oxford High School and Magdalen College, Oxford, Lapwood became the first woman in the college’s history to receive an organ scholarship there. Since 2016, she has been Director of Music at Pembroke College, Cambridge, making her the youngest person to hold this position at an Oxbridge college to date.   

In 2018, she founded the Pembroke College Girls’ Choir and a year later opened the BAFTA Awards ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall. Come 2021, she performed Camille Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony at the BBC Proms and in 2022 became an artist-in-association with the BBC Singers.   

Interestingly, Lapwood (who also plays piano, violin and harp) runs a successful TikTok channel under the alias @annalapwoodorgan with more than half a million followers on which she mainly publishes excerpts from her musical work but also videos from her everyday life. She became well known to a wider audience via social networks when she spontaneously accompanied the electronic musician Bonobo on the organ with his song Otomo at the Royal Albert Hall. The video was viewed millions of times on TikTok alone. Tickets £12. Seating unreserved.  

And the famed and popular vocal ensemble, the BBC Singers (Thursday, 11 July, 7pm), conducted by Ashley Grote with David Dunnett (organ), offers a lovely and inviting programme to include works by Lowestoft-born composer Benjamin Britten with settings of texts by the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich as well as the powerful Missa brevis penned by Hungarian-born composer, Zoltán Kodály. The performance will be recorded for BBC Radio 3. Tickets £15-£35.  

Throughout festival week there’ll be many other concerts to enjoy especially A Night at the Movies (Wednesday, 10 July, 8pm) performed by Leicester Square’s Odeon organist, Donald MacKenzie. One of the world’s leading theatre organists, he’ll also provide improvised accompaniment to the iconic 1928 silent movie, Steamboat Bill, Jr, starring Buster Keaton. Tickets £12. Seating unreserved.  

A ‘free admission’ family morning concert comes with the ‘Battle of the Organs’ (Saturday, 13 July, 11am) witnessing Norwich Cathedral’s organists - Ashley Grote, David Dunnett and Robbie Carroll - joining forces to play musical favourites ranging from Bach’s Toccata and Fugue D minor to the theme from Thunderbirds on three organs all at once utilising the Cathedral’s newly-rebuilt pipe organ, the one-manual chamber organ and a digital touring organ generously supplied by Allen organs. Retiring collection.  

Youth gets in on the act, too, with a couple of Young Organists’ Platform lunchtime concerts being held at St Peter Mancroft Church on Tuesday 9 July and Friday 12 July at 1pm in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the church’s Peter Collins’ organ. Free admission. Retiring collection.   

The youthfulness of Norwich Cathedral’s Girl Choristers come to the fore and will be heard in tandem with the Lay Clerks and Choral Scholars of Norwich Cathedral Choir singing Choral Evensong on Tuesday, 9 July, 5.30pm while on Friday, 12 July, 5.30pm, the Boy Choristers, the Lay Clerks and Choral Scholars will participate in Choral Evensong. Free admission.  

As always, everyone is welcomed to attend daily worship at Norwich Cathedral while on Wednesday, 10 July, 3pm, BBC Radio 3 will broadcast Choral Evensong ‘live’ taking the First Norwich Cathedral Organ Festival to a much wider and diverse public over the airways.  

Norwich Cathedral Choir (Photo: Bill Smith/Norwich Cathedral)
Norwich Cathedral Choir (Photo: Bill Smith/Norwich Cathedral)

The closing concert of the First Norwich Cathedral Organ Festival falls to the Britten Sinfonia and Norwich Cathedral Choir (Saturday, 13 July, 7pm) conducted by Ashley Grote with David Dunnett (organ). A delectable and inspiring programme will be rolled out to include such wonderful and inspiring pieces as Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine, Poulenc’s Litanies à la Vierge noire and Concerto for organ, timpani and strings culminating with Duruflé’s haunting Requiem, widely recognised throughout the musical world as one of the great choral masterpieces of the 20th century. Tickets £15-£35.  

Norwich Cathedral Choir will lead Sung Eucharist: The Liturgy of St Benedict on the final Sunday of the choir year (14 July 10.30am) with music to include Vierne’s Messe solennelle and Wilberg’s arrangement of Come thou fount of every blessing. And for Festal Evensong and Choir Valedictions on the same day (3.30pm), marking the end of the academic year, one bids farewell to members of the choir who have completed their final year. Free admission.  

Full details of Norwich Cathedral’s Organ Festival, the cathedral website.























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