On Wednesday 7th September 2022 we welcome organist Gordon Stewart to Bradford Cathedral for the first of this season’s organ recitals. Here we find out more about him ahead of this recital, from playing music with Francis Jackson, to conducting on Songs of Praise, to teaching the next generation of organists.
Who are you, and how did you get into organ music?
I am Gordon Stewart, formerly organist at Manchester Cathedral, organ tutor at the Royal Northern College of Music and Cambridge University. I was for thirty years Borough Organist of Kirklees, playing regular concerts on the famous Father Willis organ. I am now Organist Emeritus.
What can people expect from your recital at Bradford Cathedral?
The usual Gordon Stewart kind of programme. Older readers will remember Radio’s Semprini Serenade which opened with Semprini saying “Old ones, new ones, loved ones, neglected ones”. That sums it up!
Why do you enjoy playing the organ?
The organ’s repertoire ranges from the earliest notated music to music being written now. Of course, for me, the music of Bach is the greatest, and he wrote music of his finest music for the organ. But new music has always featured in my programmes, and I enjoy the challenge of learning new pieces.
Do you have a particular favourite piece out of those you are playing?
The audience should never know that! Barry Rose used to stop choir practices at St Paul’s Cathedral and ask a boy what his favourite piece was. “This one, sir” was the required reply, whatever they were singing at that moment!
Each recital this season includes a piece from The Orgelbüchlein Project – what was it like learning this piece / why did you pick that particular piece?
This piece by Francis Jackson is very special to me. I had been asked by a BBC producer to go to his house and interview him about his life in music. Just that day he had completed this piece and he asked me to play through it with him at the piano. He played the manual parts and I knelt on the floor and played the pedal part. So I played in the first performance! I later played it on the organ at a special concert put on to celebrate his 100th birthday.
You were one of the regular conductors on BBC’s Songs of Praise – was that a good time for you?
I was lucky to be involved when the BBC still made the programmes, before it was made by an independent company. I was lucky enough to conduct all over the UK, and in Athens and Johannesburg. Happy days!
You’ve taught at both the Royal Northern College of Music and Chetham’s School of Music – what is it like teaching the next generation of musicians?
The secret to having a reputation as an organ teacher is to have good pupils. I was lucky in that regard and former pupils are now in cathedrals and churches all over the country, some hold teaching posts in colleges and universities, and some work in the West End. With good students your job is to help them find their voice as a musician, once you have sorted out technical problems that is!
You are the Borough Organist of Kirklees and regular play on the 1860 Father Willis Organ. What is it like to play on that instrument?
The Huddersfield Willis is a wonderful instrument and seems to be quite happy playing any sort of organ music from Frescobaldi to Messiaen. Willis and Cavaillé-Coll had a lot in common, and the “Fonds” of the Huddersfield organ is glorious in Romantic French music, and the Swell reeds, in a very good Swell box, are always thrilling. The 1980 additions made the organ even more ‘inclusive’.
Finally, how would you sum up your upcoming recital at Bradford Cathedral?
It’s always fun to be at Bradford with its friendly audience. I hope they like the selections, but I’m sure they will tell me if they don’t! Its Yorkshire!
You can join us on Wednesday 7th September at 1pm for Gordon Stewart’s organ recital, and you can find out more about him on his website.
You can discover more about our organ recital season on our dedicated page.