On Wednesday 8th March 2023 we welcome Imogen Morgan from Edinburgh to the Cathedral for our next organ recital of 2023 – a special recital for International Women’s Day, featuring a piece composed specially for it, being played for the very first time, and on the Wingfield Organ.
In this edition of ‘Notes from an Organist’ we discover more about how Imogen will showcase the versatility of the Bradford Cathedral organ; her work with music psychology; and her work with the ‘Future Leaders Group’.
Could you introduce yourself, how you got into music / become an organist and your musical journey to where you are today?
Hello! I’m Imogen Morgan and I’ve been playing the organ since I was 10 years old. I come from a musical family – my Mum taught me the piano from a young age and encouraged me to start learning the organ while I was a chorister at Ripon Cathedral. After leaving the choir, I carried on my organ studies at St Catherine’s, Bramley where I was the Jennifer Bate Organ Scholar before going on to read Music at Durham University. While at Durham, I was Senior Organ Scholar at both the Cathedral and University College, and after graduating I spent a year as Organ Scholar at Peterborough Cathedral. I am currently the Assistant Master of the Music at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Edinburgh.
What can people expect from your recital at Bradford Cathedral?
In my recital you will hear a variety of styles, showcasing the wonderful versatility of the Bradford Cathedral organ; from more well-known pieces such as Herbert Howells’ ‘Master Tallis’s Testament’ to the intriguing soundscapes of Judith Bingham’s ‘Roman Conversions’. I am also playing a number of hidden gems including works by Robin Milford and Jennifer Bate.
Why do you enjoy playing the organ?
There are many reasons I enjoy playing the organ! I love accompanying the Cathedral Choir as I am constantly learning new music, expanding my musical horizons and am part of a living tradition. There is also the thrill of playing full organ and filling a huge space with music, and exploring the unique colours and timbres of each instrument. One of the joys of giving recitals is getting to know a new organ and the opportunity to perform and hear my programme in a new light.
Do you have a particular favourite piece out of those you are playing?
It is hard to pick a favourite out of this programme. I love the increasing intensity throughout the last movement of Judith Bingham’s ‘Roman Conversions’ and the gradual layering of textures building towards the end. However, the piece I enjoy playing the most is Robin Milford’s ‘Prelude on Rockingham’. I find it hauntingly beautiful, perfectly capturing the essence of the Passiontide hymn text through his use of unusually chromatic harmony and rich textures.
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 very excited to be performing a piece specially commissioned by Bradford Cathedral for International Women’s Day. Sarah MacDonald wrote her ‘Duet, Aria and Fughetta on Bradford’ specifically for the Wingfield Organ and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to premiere her new work!
I am opening my programme with Jennifer Bate’s ‘Festal Fanfare’ — a joyous piece, full of energy with subtle French influences. This work is particularly special to me as it was written for my school, where I was the Jennifer Bate Organ Scholar. While studying at St Catherine’s, I was fortunate to have occasional lessons with Jennifer and hear her give the premiere of this piece on the new school organ in 2015.
My recital will conclude with Judith Bingham’s ‘Roman Conversions’ which takes inspiration from a series of metamorphoses found in Rome in both the city and art, including Bernini’s sculpture depicting Daphne turning into the laurel tree and the Mithraic temple found underneath the church of St Clemente. This work explores the use of layering sounds and motifs to create wonderful and intriguing soundscapes which transport the listener through Rome.
Are you excited to be playing a new piece?
I am very excited to be premiering this new composition! Sarah has skilfully worked the hymn tune ‘Bradford’ (a tune I was initially unfamiliar with) into three distinct movements in the form of an early keyboard suite. The work opens with a delicate duet, full of imitation and ornamentation, before moving on to a more sonorous aria and finally a fughetta, using the hymn tune as the subject. The piece is perfectly paired to the historic Wingfield organ, and I am looking forward to its first performance.
As part of your degree you specialised in the ‘intersection of music and psychology’. Was that an interesting area of study to explore?
Music psychology is a fascinating area with many different routes to follow. In my second year, I studied musicians with perfect pitch and the way they process musical forms compared to those without. After concluding that research, I found myself drawn to the link between music and visual mental imagery; the pictures some people see in their minds when they listen to music. My research focused on group experiences, exploring if lyrics in a familiar language were essential to listeners having a similar visual mental image or emotional response. I have just begun a Research Masters at Durham exploring the link between instrumental music based on religious themes and visual mental imagery.
You released your first solo organ CD back in November. What was that like to create?
It was a wonderful experience recording ‘The Organ Works of Robin Milford’ with Priory Records. Neil Collier and Will Sims did a fantastic job of capturing the sound of the recently restored St Mary’s organ and I am very happy with the results. When Priory approached me to record a CD for their single composer collection, I decided to explore unrecorded composers and was thrilled when I came across Milford – a composer whose music was held in high regard by his contemporaries, including his friends Gerald Finzi and Ralph Vaughan Williams (whose influence can clearly be heard in his music) – but who has sadly somewhat faded from the public eye. Milford was a parish organist and wrote many short pieces for use in services; they are very well crafted and creative in their approach to melody and harmony. He similarly excelled when composing larger forms, writing (amongst other works) six distinct Easter Meditations which are similar in length and complexity to Howells’ Psalm Preludes. Learning his music and crafting my interpretations was a long but rewarding process, and I had great fun practicing the pieces and bringing them to life.
You have previously performed part of The Orgelbüchlein Project at St. Paul’s, and at the Edinburgh Festival. What were they like to be involved in?
I was honoured to be asked to perform as part of the UK premiere of William Whitehead’s Orgelbüchlein Project in September 2022. Bach only wrote a small proportion of the chorales he had intended to include in his Orgelbüchlein, and the project’s aim was to complete the set through commissions. I was asked to play eight of these chorales (including works by composers such as Cecilia McDowall, Gabriel Jackson, and Roxanna Panufnik) before Evensong at St Paul’s Cathedral. The chorales I played covered a wide range of composition styles: from a very still and textually dense soundscape from which the chorale melody was gradually revealed by Guy Ferla, to a rhythmically precise and heavily ornamented take on the Passiontide chorale ‘Herzlieber Jesu’ by Gabriel Jackson. I had a lot of fun learning the pieces, getting to know the extraordinary St Paul’s organ, and meeting several of the composers afterwards.
You have a role as part of the Cathedral Music Trust’s ‘Future Leaders Group’ to help support choral and organ music. How has it been to be involved in that?
It has been a very positive experience so far! I have found it very interesting to meet other like-minded individuals, hear about their own experiences of Cathedral music, and their visions for its future.
Why is it important to work on this support, and what are your hopes for the group and the future?
The Anglican choral tradition is an integral part of the UK’s cultural heritage. It has a central role in many of our national ceremonies (as seen at the late Queen Elizabeth’s funeral) but that standard is only possible due to the singing of the daily office and chorister way of life. Choristers are not only taught musical skills but teamwork, leadership, and responsibility which sets them up for life, and it is my belief that this experience should be available to as many children as possible. Cathedral Choirs have already evolved, allowing women and girls into their choirs, and the tradition will have to keep evolving to be relevant to today’s society. The Future Leaders Group hopes to find ways to help increase public awareness and appreciation of cathedral music in a younger demographic, as well as finding ways of helping cathedrals and churches to encourage children from a diverse range of backgrounds to join their choirs.
Finally, how would you sum up your upcoming recital at Bradford Cathedral?
An exciting and varied programme, celebrating International Women’s Day and showcasing the wonderful Bradford Cathedral organ.
You can join us on Wednesday 8th March at 1pm for Imogen Morgan’s organ recital, with an optional £4 buffet lunch beforehand at 12:30pm. You can also find out more about her on Instagram and hear some of her music on Spotify. For anyone interested in reading her report on language and shared musical experiences, it can be found online.
You can discover more about our organ recital season on our dedicated page