When it was unveiled 146 years ago, it was the biggest musical instrument in the world, Frank Zappa called it “mighty and majestic” – before breaking into a ferocious ‘Louie Louie’ – and the opening titles of cult ‘70s movie Rollerball were played on it. It is ‘the voice of Jupiter’, the Royal Albert Hall’s famous pipe organ, and next year it gets its own showcase.
The Grand Organ Celebration, being held at the Hall on Tuesday 15 May 2018, is a day of events offering a new perspective on one of the world’s most renowned and revered instruments, including performances, a pre-concert talk featuring a live relay of the 9,999-pipe organ’s inner workings, and Education & Outreach events in partnership with St Paul’s Cathedral.
An evening concert will feature some of the world’s most respected organists, including Wayne Marshall, Olivier Latry and David Briggs, a live stream revealing the complex and sometimes frenetic work of the maestros’ hands and feet as they perform the music of Bach, Widor, Liszt, Ravel, Saint-Saëns and Gershwin, an ensemble featuring two pianos, and a climactic improvisation based on themes supplied by audience members.
Lucy Noble, Artistic Director of the Royal Albert Hall, said: “The organ is the jewel in the Hall’s crown, a strikingly beautiful backdrop to our famous stage, and a uniquely powerful and glorious instrument in its own right. This unique and innovative event will give fans and newcomers alike the chance to experience – and understand – the ‘voice of Jupiter’ as never before.”
The evening show will include a pre-concert talk from Tom Daggett of St Paul’s Cathedral, and custodian of the organ Michael Broadway, revealing just what’s so special about this majestic instruments, and featuring live footage of the pipes, relayed from inside the grand organ.
This all-day celebration will also feature daytime education events for schools in collaboration with St Paul’s Cathedral – as the Hall enlists the spectacular organ in its ongoing commitment to changing lives through music, opening up the extraordinary building to inspire young people.
Meanwhile, a show in the Hall’s second space, the Elgar Room, will celebrate the role of a very different organ – the Hammond – in shaping modern jazz, with appearances from world-class jazz improvisers and organists.
The grand organ, designed and built by Henry Willis, is one of the world’s most celebrated instruments, and is still the second largest organ in Britain, after that of Liverpool Cathedral. It was played at the Hall’s opening ceremony in 1871, where its wind system was powered by two steam engines, and the roll-call of musicians who’ve performed on it include Camille Saint-Saëns – whose music will be performed in May – Anton Bruckner, Pink Floyd’s Richard Wright, Don Preston from Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, and British rock band Muse.
It has also been a favourite of screen composers, featuring on the soundtrack of cult films Rollerball and Tron, as well as Henry Mancini’s unused score for Hitchcock’s last masterpiece, Frenzy.
The organ also has its own Twitter feed, which is genuinely nothing to do with us.
“Ah! I know the perfect thing to accompany this man’s trumpet. None other than the mighty and majestic Albert Hall pipe organ!” – Frank Zappa, 1969.