On Wednesday 15th March 2023 we welcome Katy Silverman from London to the Cathedral for our next organ recital of 2023. In this edition of ‘Notes from an Organist’ we discover more about how she swapped the piano for the organ; enjoying French Romantic music; and playing Tallis on the Wingfield Organ.
Could you introduce yourself, how you got into music / become an organist and your musical journey to where you are today?
As a child I was a chorister at the beautiful Pearson church of St George’s Cullercoats, and when I was about 13 the Director of Music suggested that I try the organ “as a break from piano exams”. I loved it and never really went back to the piano! I gradually progressed from playing one hymn per service to eventually accompanying evensong on cathedral trips. I didn’t really know anything about the opportunities available to young organists, but luckily someone explained Oxbridge organ scholarships to me in time for me to apply and I was awarded the organ scholarship at Worcester College, Oxford, where I had a wonderful 3 years reading Music and accompanying and directing the chapel choir.
My musical journey since then has been rather a meandering one; first of all I went into full-time teaching, but I realised I missed performing too much to spend my weekends marking! I then worked at Guildford Cathedral and various London churches before undertaking a Masters at the Royal College of Music and taking on my current role as Director of Music at St Mary’s, Battersea. I also teach the organ at City of London School and privately.
What can people expect from your recital at Bradford Cathedral?
I’ve chosen quite a varied programme and I really hope there is something for everyone to enjoy, as well as perhaps something they’re hearing for the first time. I started selecting music with the season of Lent in mind, but I also wanted to present some musical contrasts so I hope I will be forgiven for playing the very jolly Dubois Toccata to finish!
Why do you enjoy playing the organ?
I love the challenge of performing different styles of music on different instruments, and I think it encourages me to approach every piece with fresh ears, even if I’ve performed it many times before. As well as the variety of repertoire I play, I really enjoy the variety of what I do from week to week as a professional organist, which might range from playing a rousing version of Jerusalem at a funeral to improvising during a service while trying to incorporate Happy Birthday!
Do you have a particular favourite piece out of those you are playing?
I really enjoy performing all of these works, but I’ve always loved both the organ and choral music of Howells so if I had to choose one favourite it would be the Psalm Prelude. He clearly had such a great understanding and love of the instrument, as well as writing such emotionally charged music. It’s also very enjoyable for me to be able to play this piece on a large cathedral instrument, because although it is possible to play it on the smaller organ at St Mary’s, it doesn’t have quite the same impact.
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’m playing Joséphine Boulay’s Andante from her Trois Pièces, which were written in the 1890s. I really enjoy French Romantic and 20th century music so this was a natural addition to my repertoire from that period. Boulay, like Louis Vierne and Jean Langlais, was blind and studied at the National Institution for the Blind in Paris. The school provided training for professions that would be accessible to their blind students, and playing, composing and teaching as an organist was an important focus. I was lucky enough to visit the Institution (no longer a full-time school, but still an education centre and charity) on a trip to Paris with the Royal College of Music and I was fascinated to learn about their history of training organists.
Are you looking forward to playing the Wingfield Organ, and what will it bring to your set / the piece you’re playing on it?
The Wingfield Organ is such a special instrument, and no matter how much you learn about or listen to early music, the experience of playing an authentic instrument like this cannot really be replicated in any other way. I’m playing a set of three variations on the plainsong Clarifica me Pater by Tallis. I think it can be easy to underestimate both the technical challenges and beauty of this style of music, but the unequal temperament and immediacy of the sound on the Wingfield Organ really bring these pieces to life.
Finally, how would you sum up your upcoming recital at Bradford Cathedral?
I’m really looking forward to my recital at Bradford Cathedral, and most of all I hope that my enjoyment of playing and passion for these composers and pieces comes through so that listeners enjoy the recital as much as I’ve enjoyed preparing for it.
You can join us on Wednesday 15th March at 1pm for Katy Silverman’s organ recital, with an optional £4 buffet lunch beforehand at 12:30pm. You can also find out more about her on Twitter.
You can discover more about our organ recital season on our dedicated page