On Wednesday 17th January we welcome Ian Shaw from London for our second organ recital of the new 2024 season. In this edition of ‘Notes from an Organist’ we discover more about them, and what to expect from their recital, including playing one of his own pieces; his time in Durham; and his plans for 2024.
1. Could you introduce yourself, how you got into music / become an organist and your musical journey to where you are today?
Hello. I was born in 1960. My Dad held to the Edwardian middle-class notion that every family should have a piano and every child should have lessons. I was also a choirboy at our parish church, so trying the organ was almost inevitable. I ended up as Sub-Organist at Durham, under Richard Lloyd and later James Lancelot. While there, I co-founded Durham Independent Opera, which was incredibly exciting, and was given some lucky breaks into the professional opera world. Eventually, I left cathedral music altogether, to sup with the devil.
2. What can people expect from your recital at Bradford Cathedral?
More than half of my programme comes from Bach’s ‘Musical Offering’. If people don’t like Bach’s music (some don’t) or the key of C minor, then this recital isn’t for them. There’s also Hindemith’s lovely ‘Sonata on old folk-songs’ and something by me.
3. Why do you enjoy playing the organ?
Why, or how much, I enjoy playing the organ depends mainly on the particular instrument, and I’m greatly looking forward to playing at Bradford, for the first time. People have told me both that I play the organ like a pianist and that I play the piano like an organist. I’m not sure which is worse. Maybe it’s all just music!
4. Do you have a particular favourite piece out of those you are playing?
‘The Musical Offering’ is one of the handful of extraordinary monothematic works from the last period of Bach’s life (others include ‘The Goldberg Variations’ and ‘The Art of Fugue’). He finally had the time to explore certain private passions, such as complex canon and numerology. He mixes aspects of the medieval and rococo worlds, while not forgetting that it’s music primarily to be played and heard. I’ve loved this repertoire ever since buying Lionel Rogg’s recording of ‘The Art of Fugue’ as a rather nerdish kid.
5. This season’s theme is ‘Trios and Trio Sonatas’ which features JS Bach’s six trio sonatas in full. Are you playing one and, if so, which one is it, why did you choose this one, and why are you looking forward to playing it?
I’m playing the trio sonata from ‘The Musical Offering’, which Bach wrote for flute, violin and basso continuo rather than for organ. I’m looking forward to playing it because it’s so beautiful.
6. What are your hopes or plans musically for 2024?
For me, 2024 will hopefully be quite like 2023, with a balance of opera work, some organ playing and some composition.
7. You have worked with many companies over your career – have there been any particular highlights?
I’m so lucky! My nine years at Durham were the happiest of my life (so far) but, if I’d stayed in cathedral music, I’d have missed out on so many other wonderful opportunities. Playing James MacMillan’s first opera, ‘Inés de Castro’ at Scottish Opera blew me away; likewise, David McVicar’s production of ‘Der Rosenkavalier’ or Mark-Anthony Turnage’s ‘Greek’ for Music Theatre Wales. Also unforgettable was going to Trinidad to conduct the première of my friend Dominique Le Gendre’s ‘Jab Molassie’, a re-telling of Stravinsky”s ‘Soldier’s Tale’ in Carnival style, complete with steel pan.
8. Finally, how would you sum up your upcoming recital at Bradford Cathedral?
Perhaps I’ll be able to answer that when it’s over!
You can join us on Wednesday 17th January at 1pm to hear Ian’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.