On Wednesday 22nd November we welcome our very own Director of Music Graham Thorpe for our next organ recital. In this edition of ‘Notes from an Organist’ we discover more about him, and what to expect from his recital, plus catching up on the choir progress, where else you can see Graham play, and receiving a surprisingly scary invoice from Norway!
Could you introduce yourself and give us a bit of an update on how your first few months have been as Director of Music?
I came to Bradford Cathedral in 2019 as the Assistant Director of Music, having been studying in London. I did my undergraduate studies at the Royal Academy of Music and my postgrad at the Royal College of Music. I spent most of my time outside the degrees freelancing across London, as an organist and piano accompanist, and even, occasionally, on the harmonium.
It’s been a real pleasure to take over as Director of Music this year, and to be working with excellent colleagues who are also good friends. The atmosphere of the department has changed, as you’d expect with a new team in place, and there have been many opportunities to try out new ways of working. That being said, it hasn’t all been plain sailing, and I feel as busy as ever. I am really optimistic about the future of music at Bradford Cathedral.
What can people expect from your recital at Bradford Cathedral?
A balance of music that I really enjoy playing and would like to share with the audience. There’s well-known repertoire, contrasted with some music that I bought specially from Norway… and received an unexpected (alarming) Norwegian invoice… (it turns out that the exchange rate to Norwegian Krone is about 14 to the pound, so my invoice in the hundreds was not quite so devastating as it first appeared!) Thankfully, all now settled.
How have you found the sound of the newly refurbished organ?
I can’t get enough of it! In organ building terms we spent a relatively small amount of money and didn’t do a vast amount of work. But, it has transformed the instrument and it now sounds like a proper cathedral organ. The swell sound binds together the rest of the organ. As yet, I’m not sure what’s my favourite part of the work, but certainly I’m delighted with the new mixture, the 16’ flue and the strings are gorgeous.
Do you have a particular favourite piece out of those you are playing?
I love the Bach Passacaglia, which is monumental in scale, and builds and builds in excitement, all the way through to a Neapolitan climax towards the end of the fugue. I also love the Widor movements, but the real highlight/discovery for me this recital are the Two Part Inventions by Mons Leidvin Takle which are brilliant, colourful little blues miniatures.
This recital season we are celebrating ‘Fanfares and Fireworks – Celebrating the Return of the Organ’. How are you weaving that theme into your recital?
I consider the Bach to be the Firework of the programme, and the Widor movements contain what we might call fanfares, particularly if you consider how they would sound orchestrally. Indeed, Widor himself orchestrated some of his Organ Symphonies for organ and orchestra.
As we approach the end of the year, what are your hopes for 2024, and any highlights coming up that you’re particularly looking forward to?
I really want to see the great progress of the choir continuing. To a large extent we are still seeing the effect of the COVID pandemic and its long-term effect on the children. The number of choristers and adult singers is growing, as is the confidence, but there’s always further to go. We are taking the choir on tour to Northumberland, which I am really excited about, and we’re also hoping to tour to Southwell with the adult choir.
For you, what makes a good organ recital?
There has to be a good balance of repertoire, colours in the registration, entertainment. Not too much of one thing, or for it to be persistently loud. I try to show off the organ to its best by really listening to the sounds that are coming out and how it speaks into the building.
Have you got any organ recitals coming up at other churches / cathedrals?
Yes… I think… I’m notoriously bad at keeping track…! I’m at Wakefield next Tuesday, the Temple Church in London early next year, then Norwich Cathedral some way further down the line (November 2024). I’m particularly looking forward to the recital at Norwich where the organ has recently been rebuilt and sounds fabulous.
Finally, how would you sum up your upcoming recital at Bradford Cathedral?
It’ll be great fun, by the time I’ve done what I consider enough practice…!
You can join us on Wednesday 22nd November 2023 at 1pm to hear Graham’s organ recital, with an optional £4 buffet lunch beforehand at 12:30pm.
You can discover more about our organ recital season on our dedicated page