On Wednesday 26th April 2023 we welcome Darius Battiwalla to the Cathedral for the first organ recital of the 2023 summer season. In this edition of ‘Notes from an Organist’ we discover more about what it’s like living in Calderdale, renovating the Leeds Town Hall organ, and more about returning to play at Bradford Cathedral after thirteen years.
Could you introduce yourself, how you got into music / become an organist and your musical journey to where you are today?
I started playing the piano by ear, then took up the cello. Like many organists, I only started the organ because my local church in London needed an organist – so I decided to have lessons as well. My first teacher was Alan Horsey who was studying at the Royal College of Music at the time. When I came up to Leeds University I was organ scholar at the Parish Church, and I’ve been in Leeds or Manchester ever since.
What can people expect from your recital at Bradford Cathedral?
Hopefully a varied programme which shows all the different aspects of the instrument. There’s quite a variety of styles of music – the Thea Musgrave piece for the Orgelbüchlein Project has some beautiful textures, gradually making their way from the top to bottom of the organ.
Why do you enjoy playing the organ?
Some wonderful music of course, but one thing unique to the organ is that every instrument you play brings out different things in the music, and you never know until you get there exactly what will work best. Although I’ve played at Bradford before, it’s 13 years since my last recital there so it’s almost like playing a new organ!
Do you have a particular favourite piece out of those you are playing?
The Stanford is a relatively new piece for me and it’s great fun to play. Although there’s no French music in the programme, the Stanford Sonata is dedicated to Widor and the last movement is based on “La Marseillaise” so there’ll be a definite French flavour.
This recital season we are celebrating ‘music for royal occasions’. Have you ever met any royalty and / or played for them?
Not as far as I know!
You live in Hebden Bridge. What is your favourite thing about Calderdale?
Probably the countryside and landscape. There’s so many beautiful places but also traces of the past wherever you look. We were very lucky to be here during the lockdown where there were so many fantastic walks.
You are the music director of the Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus – what has that experience been like?
They’re a fantastic choir – they work hard and will tackle anything with enthusiasm. It’s been great to work with such a lovely group of people, as well as giving me the opportunity to conduct them with some great bands and orchestras.
Your musical arrangements have been played by many established bands and orchestras; have there been any particular highlights?
Anything played by the Black Dyke band is a highlight, and I’ve been lucky to have heard them play many of my Christmas arrangements. Also being featured on the Hallé Christmas CD was quite a privilege.
The organ in Leeds Town Hall is currently being renewed, a project you are overseeing. How is that going, and are you looking forward to playing the instrument when the project is completed?
Of course! It’s progressing well in the factory though you can’t really hear anything there except individual stops as they’re voiced. It’s exciting but also slightly scary – wondering if it will turn out as well as we hope but not knowing until it’s all in the building.
You also play improvisational music over silent films, including previously at the National Science and Media Museum. What are your tips for creating an engaging soundtrack to a silent movie?
Assuming you’re a confident improviser – spend most of your preparation time getting to know the film as well as you can, rather than rehearsing particular musical ideas. If you know the film really well, the whole process is much more enjoyable.
Finally, how would you sum up your upcoming recital at Bradford Cathedral?
There’s no single theme connecting the pieces, but I think it shows a wide variety of colours, styles and moods – and hopefully it’s entertaining as well.
You can join us on Wednesday 26th April at 1pm for Darius Battiwalla’s organ recital, with an optional £4 buffet lunch beforehand at 12:30pm. You can find out more about Darius on their website or Twitter page.
You can discover more about our organ recital season on our dedicated page