On Wednesday 20th March we welcome Alex Woodrow from Leeds for our eleventh organ recital of the 2024 season. In this edition of ‘Notes from an Organist’ we discover more about them, and what to expect from their recital, including taking everyone on a musical tour during the recital; looking back at his time here at Bradford Cathedral; and being the Director of Music at Leeds Minster.

Could you introduce yourself, how you got into music / become an organist and your musical journey to where you are today?
I grew up in York, to musically supportive parents (neither of whom played an instrument), who allowed me to try out the organ the moment my legs were long enough to reach the pedals. I also played the piano and flute throughout school, specialised in the organ while an organ scholar at Cambridge, and then have worked in church, cathedral and school environments and with chamber choirs and choral societies ever since.

What can people expect from your recital at Bradford Cathedral?
A tour, from Baroque Germany to music by two twentieth-century organists of the Temple Church in London, to French music by Franck and Duruflé, so plenty of contrast and varied colour that I know will work well on the Bradford instrument.

Why do you enjoy playing the organ?
It’s appellation (Mozart’s) as the King of Instruments is completely justified!

Do you have a particular favourite piece out of those you are playing?
Not really: they’re all good pieces, and will sound well, but they are so greatly contrasted that they all add flavour to the programme as a whole, rather than my having a favourite as such.

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?
Yes, Trio Sonata 4, in E minor. In 2019, I played all six of the Bach Trio Sonatas in one day, at St Alphege Church in Solihull. It was a self-development project that I had set myself, and an incredibly rewarding one, if not one that I’m likely to repeat any time soon! So I offered any of the six for this recital, on the basis that it would be good to brush up any of them, and the fourth sonata was selected for me. It’s a work, as all of the trios are, of great beauty, complexity and elegance.

What are your hopes or plans musically for 2024?
No great plans or targets, but to continue to enjoy all that I do, whether playing a recital, conducting or accompanying a choir, or attending after the administrative side of my Minster work. I find it all rewarding and fulfilling.

You last played an organ recital with us in May 2022 – what have you been up to since then?
I have been busy moving into a new house with my fiancée, planning a wedding (this July), making much music with my choirs in Leeds and Huddersfield, giving a few recitals, and generally keeping busy!

You were the recipient of the Silver Medal of the Worshipful Company of Musicians – what was it like to receive that?
It was upon the recommendation of the Royal College of Organists, following my FRCO diploma exam in 2006. A long time ago now!

You were previously the Organist and Director of Music at Bradford Cathedral. Did you enjoy your time at Bradford and what were your highlights?
Very much so, and there were so many highlights. I’m particularly pleased to have split the treble lines and re-founded the boys’ choir during my time in Bradford, and to have established the Cathedral Consort for adult singers. There were the great moments, such as the live BBC Radio 4 ‘Sunday Worship’ broadcast and the Songs of Praise programmes that we made in 2014, but so many good and positive moments among the day-to-day musical activity and education and outreach work that we were privileged to oversee. Taking the choirs on regular tours was also really rewarding for all sorts of reasons: sharing our music, broadening choristers’ horizons, enabling children to see that what they do as choristers in Bradford is not unique to Bradford, but is part of this country’s heritage. Bradford is a place where musical results are very much hard-won, but fulfilling for it.

You were the youngest cathedral organist in the country then – what was it like to hold that record?
Yes, I was very young throughout my time at Bradford, though it wasn’t something of which I was particularly conscious. I’d come up through the traditional route of Organ Scholar at university and at a couple of cathedrals, and then as Assistant Organist at Hexham Abbey, so I suppose it was a natural step at the time, and certainly one that combined hard work with fulfilment. I gained a lot of experience very quickly through being at the coalface of cathedral music straightaway, I suppose.

You are now the Director of Music at Leeds Minster. How has your time been in West Yorkshire?
It has been lovely to return to Yorkshire since taking up the post at Leeds in 2020. The Minster work is fun and fulfilling, with an adult chamber choir that sings three services each week in a fantastically wide repertoire, as well as a weekly organ recital series to oversee.

You are also the Director of Music of the St Peter’s Singers of Leeds. Could you tell us a little about the singers?
They are a super chamber choir of skilled and committed singers, with a busy programme of concerts in Leeds and further afield, and a strong reputation for high quality and enterprising music making. We’re really looking forward to offering the Bach St John Passion at Leeds Minster on Good Friday.

Finally, how would you sum up your upcoming recital at Bradford Cathedral?
An opportunity to rediscover the super organ at the cathedral, especially since the recent rounds of refurbishment work, and to return to a building and instrument that have a special significance to me.

You can join us on Wednesday 20th March at 1pm to hear Alex’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.

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