On Wednesday 15th February 2023 we welcome Mark Brafield from Dorking to the Cathedral for our next organ recital of 2023. In this edition of ‘Notes from an Organist’ we discover how he came from a creative family; balancing his work as musician and County Court Judge; and transcribing a very special musical manuscript over lockdown.
Could you introduce yourself, how you got into music / become an organist and your musical journey to where you are today?
I come from a family in which music goes back many generations. Although a doctor by profession, my father was a superb trumpeter whilst my mother (a nurse) loved music and was an accomplished ballroom dancer. Organists in my family can be traced back two or three generations and I continue to perform some of my repertoire from my grandfather’s scores, more than 100 years old but still going strong. My family was always closely involved with our local church, St Mary’s Woodford, which had a fine Grant, Degens and Bradbeer organ after the church was rebuilt following a fire in 1969.
I started piano lessons at the age of four and was singing in the church choir by the age of six. Learning the organ became a natural progression. I gave my first recital at the age of seventeen which came to the attention of Roger Fisher who let me play at Chester Cathedral the same year. I held an Organ Scholarship at Trinity College, Oxford, whilst reading English, but after careful thought decided that I wanted to keep music as a passion – albeit one pursued to a professional standard – whilst following a career in the law.
What can people expect from your recital at Bradford Cathedral?
I hope that my listeners will be entertained by my programmes, introducing on this occasion some new repertoire, but designed to be accessible, engaging, and as colourful as possible. As a young performer I was obsessed with my own performances which needed to be that impossible thing; ‘perfect’. As an older and wiser musician, I now see that the enjoyment of the audience is far more important, and if just one person is moved by my playing of just one piece, then I consider the concert to have been a success.
Why do you enjoy playing the organ?
I love playing the organ because for me, it has the widest emotional range, and the greatest ability to touch the listener, from radiant joy and the grandest nobility to the most profound inwardness.
Do you have a particular favourite piece out of those you are playing?
My favourite piece is probably the one I am playing at the moment. Having said that, I adore the cinematic lushness of the Mushel Suite; it is so colourful, so open-hearted.
This recital season we are celebrating music written by female composers. Which piece(s) have you selected, and why did you choose it / them?
I am delighted to offer Jeanne Demessieux’s Attende Domine in acknowledgement of the richness of repertoire written by women composers. I came across this piece by chance when recently browsing on YouTube and it stopped me in my tracks. Music has the power to do that.
Alongside your work as a musician, you have a day job as a County Court Judge. How do you find the balance between those two different roles, and is there anything that you’ve learnt from your work as a Judge that applies to your music playing?
For me it was the right decision to pursue a career away from music. When I made the choice my teacher observed that I would have the complete freedom to play whatever I wanted, without needing to worry about earning money from the process. That has been true; I will only play a piece if I completely love it and feel that I have something to say about it. And after a stressful day in court, music is the most wonderful diversion.
In 2016 I left full-time work as a solicitor to take up a part-time role as a County Court Judge, the decision motivated at least in part in order to devote more time to my concert career. I love both strands of my life and think common qualities in both can easily be found; the need for hard work, meticulous preparation and for presenting evidence or a piece of music in an engaging way.
You are playing the Samarkand Suite by Georgi Mushel – and you own one of only two copies in the UK. What’s the story behind that?
I heard the Samarkand Suite in a recording a few years ago and was immediately taken with this wonderfully lyrical score. The performer – who had better remain anonymous – very generously sent me his photocopy of Mushel’s manuscript. This was almost illegible and one of my lockdown projects was to typeset the score in a more readable form. I am told that there is a dispute continuing in Russia over the copyright of the piece, and whenever I play it I am slightly afraid of black-suited henchmen appearing at the back of the church, hence the need for the cloak and dagger…
How would you sum up your upcoming recital at Bradford Cathedral?
Friends of mine have played at Bradford and were insistent that I should ask to play here to experience the warm welcome for myself. I am greatly looking forward to my visit!
You can join us on Wednesday 15th February at 1pm for Mark Brafield’s organ recital, with an optional £4 buffet lunch beforehand at 12:30pm. You can also find out more about him on his website.
You can discover more about our organ recital season on our dedicated page