Sydney Conservatorium Organ Music Academy 2016

The second Sydney Conservatorium Organ Music Academy (SCOMA ’16) took place on 28 September to Sunday 2 October this year. The aim of this year’s SCOMA was to learn about the art of organ improvisation and a focus on French repertoire from the 18th-20th centuries. Dutch organist, Sietze de Vries, a leading expert in liturgical improvisation was sanctioned for the academy but unfortunately fell ill before his arrival in Australia. Sarah Kim, a former student of the Sydney Conservatorium and now based in Paris, conducted repertoire workshops. It was only appropriate that participants were asked to present repertoire, in the Sarah Kim workshops, from the French-Romantic period due to her extensive experience with Cavaillé-Coll organs. SCOMA Artistic Director, Philip Swanton, stepped in for Sietze and delivered several repertoire workshops on virtually all repertoire (except French). Many participants pulled out their Bach works on the Verbrugghen Hall organ during Philip’s classes.

SCOMA introduced us to the Noorlander Hauptwerk Virtual Organ. This 3 manual practice instrument is a relatively recent acquisition for the Con but a sensible one. As Sietze could not be with us in person to demonstrate the Noorlander, he prepared some MIDI files of his playing and Philip played them back to us on the Noorlander. It was like as if Sietze was in the room! However, we all wanted to see the console in live-action so Con student, Sam Giddy, performed a flawless rendition of JS Bach’s Prelude in Eb Major (St Anne’s) – and from memory I add! Even though repertoire from all periods are performed on the Verbrugghen Hall organ, sometimes playing a piece on the organ it was designed for is much more pleasing and authentic. Such authenticity was maintained in the French repertoire workshops (on the Noorlander) as the “Grand Orgue” was the bottom manual, the “Positif” becoming the middle manual and the “Recit” as the upper manual. Registration markings such as “Anches préparées G.O” suddenly made sense using the Noorlander and the Cavaillé-Coll sample set – the reeds on the divided windchests could simply be activated via a single pedal (ventils).

Workshops throughout the week were divided into two sessions per day. In the morning, non-Con students worked on repertoire with Philip whilst the Con students worked with Sarah. During the afternoon sessions, all participants were in class with Sarah which allowed the opportunity for everyone to get a chance to hear each other. I must admit that most French-Romantic repertoire is a little foreign for me. I can relate to Guilmant and Franck but listening to the likes of Duruflé, Dupré and Langlais proved a little difficult as I’m not familiar with the pieces or the composers. However, during the course of the academy, I have learnt to appreciate such material and it has inspired me to learn something “out of the ordinary”. Whilst repertoire of these composers are staple material in the Sydney organ ring, I’m not quite sure Albury could fully appreciate something like Duruflé’s Prelude and Fugue on ALAIN (yet)!

A Student Recital was held on the Saturday afternoon with repertoire chosen by Sarah and Philip. The result was an interesting, yet balanced programme of an hour and a quarter starting with two JS Bach works followed by a multitude of French repertoire – with enough variety to satisfy any listener’s ear!

My three memorable lessons from SCOMA:

  • Basic breakdown to learning a piece: 1) Notes, 2) Articulation, 3) Registration
  • Body movements and gestures can help your performance – though the movement must be natural
  • When it gets difficult, slow down and pretend it’s expressive (discretion advised)

My most memorable moments from SCOMA:

  • Michael Lukin’s (WA) performance of JS Bach’s Passacaglia
  • Jonathan Lee’s (ACT) rendition of Hakim’s Hommage to Stravinsky
  • The professionalism and wealth of knowledge Sarah and Philip shared in their respective workshops

Many thanks go to Marcus Hodgson, Philip Swanton and Sarah Kim for pulling together a successful event in such unexpected circumstances. Lastly, I would like to sincerely thank the bursary which funded SCOMA, The Richard and Doreen Wilson Scholarship fund. This endowment held in trust by the University covered all participants specifically in support of Organ Studies. The future of Organ Music lives on!

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