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Rare organ performances

Leven Parish Church

Two of the best-preserved examples of rare pipe organs in Scotland will be brought to life by talented international performers later this month.

The University of St Andrews is hosting two of the world’s best organists at churches in Leven in Fife, and Lochee in Dundee, enabling audiences to hear these rare instruments at their best.

Increasingly threatened as churches close across Scotland, opportunities to hear these instruments played in concert are rare.

The organ at Leven Parish Church predates the present building, having been built for its predecessor, by renowned organ builder August Gern in 1884. Gern, originally from Berlin, worked for the greatest organ builder of the 19th century, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, in Paris before setting up his own business in London.

Sadly, there are just three Gern organs left in a close-to-original state in Scotland, with Leven’s unusual for having both its original pipework and its original pneumatic wind-chests.

Anna Homenya, Professor of Organ at the École Russe des Arts in Paris, will play the instrument in her first UK performance at the end of this month. During the concert she will accompany former member of the Hallé Orchestra, violinist Andrew Lees, in a programme evoking the 19th century Parisian salon.

University Music Centre Head of Programming and Artistic Director of St Andrews Organ Week, Chris Bragg, said: “We are delighted to be taking a concert to Leven for the first time and to be uniting brilliant young players with exceptionally preserved instruments.

“This is about celebrating pieces of local culture which otherwise would be in danger of neglect and destruction. It’s very unusual indeed to encounter a Gern organ so well preserved both in terms of its sound, and also its mechanical condition. Leven is fortunate to have such a cultural gem.”

Lochee organ

Lochee’s 1890 organ is the largest example in Scotland of an instrument by Thomas Hill still in its original state. The Hill firm, hugely influential in the development of 19th century British organ building, was in the process of creating the then largest organ in the world at Sydney Town Hall in Australia when the Lochee organ was in the workshop.

One of the best young organists in the world, Katelyn Emerson, winner of the prestigious American Guild of Organists Young Artists’ Competition in 2016, will make her Scottish debut on the historic Dundee organ. This was commissioned for what is now Lochee Parish Church by Edward Cox whose family built and owned the nearby Camperdown Works, then the largest jute factory in the world employing around 5000 workers.

Chris added: “The magnificent Hill organ is an exceptional survival and, as a gift of the Cox family who owned the Camperdown mill, is one of the most important cultural legacies of Dundee’s industrial history.”

Both events form part of the University of St Andrews Organ Week – an annual summer academy for amateur and young organists from all over the world including the USA, Denmark, France and Spain.

The Leven concert will take place on Tuesday 30 July at 7.30pm and will include music by Fauré, Dubois, Bonnal and Lefébure-Wély.

The concert in Lochee will take place on Thursday 1 August at 7.30pm. The programme will include Parry’s Fantasy and Fugue in G, Widor’s virtuosic Symphony no. 6 op. 42/2 and the world premiere of Kerensa Briggs’ Light in Darkness, commissioned by Choir and Organ magazine as part of their new music partnership with the University Music Centre during 2019.

Tickets for both events are available on the door, priced £8 and £6 (concessions and Music Centre members).

Uniquely in Europe, historic pipe organs in the UK are not protected by the State, meaning they can be changed, removed or even disposed of entirely.

In Scotland the position is especially critical because of the large number of church closures and amalgamations meaning organs are becoming redundant far more quickly than they can be re-homed.

Often churches opt to spend money on an electronic organ rather than restore their pipe organ in the face of limited resources.


Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office.

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