Cathedral’s ambitious organ project enters its final stage
5 May 2023
An ambitious, once-in-a-lifetime project to preserve Norwich Cathedral’s historic organ for future generations is now in its final – and noisiest - stage.
Most of the several thousand pipes that make up the organ have now been reinstalled and each and every one of the 5,767 pipes are set to be individually fine-tuned over the next couple of months.
The process, known as ‘voicing’, started on Monday 24 April and will carry on for eight to 10 weeks, with the work expected to be finished by early July.
During this time, visitors to the Cathedral will gain an unusual insight into the workings of the organ as they will be able to hear organ specialists Harrison and Harrison carrying out the painstaking task of tuning all the pipes which range in size from about the length of a pencil to an incredible 32ft (almost 10 metres).
To help with the voicing process, people are being asked to be as quiet as possible when they visit the Cathedral.
Ashley Grote, Master of Music at Norwich Cathedral, said: “It is so exciting for us to reach the final stages of this long-running project to rebuild the cathedral organ. Over the coming weeks, the pipes will be brought to life by the skilled voicers from Harrison & Harrison organ builders, ensuring they all speak with just the right pitch and tone. In order for this to happen we will be needing to ask for visitors’ co-operation in keeping as quiet as possible, to allow the organ builders to hear what they are doing. By the start of July we should be able to hear the organ again in all its splendour – ready to serve the cathedral for at least another 80 years!”
The organ – a key part of musical life at the Cathedral – is one of the biggest of its kind in the country and the extensive rebuild project is the instrument’s first complete overhaul since it was rebuilt in 1942, following a fire which partially destroyed the instrument in April 1938.
The 15-month project – which is costing about £1.8m – is being funded by money raised from the £2.5m They Shall Laugh and Sing Music Appeal.
Work first began in May 2022 when scaffolding was put up to enable most of the pipe organ’s several thousand pipes to be removed and taken to Harrison and Harrison’s base in Durham for further work.
Meanwhile skilled gilders Robert Woodland and Debra Miller set about re-gilding the show pipes, crown and star that decorate the organ’s exterior.
Most of the organ’s working pipes were returned to the Cathedral and carefully reinstalled between January and March this year, with the scaffolding being removed just before Easter to reveal the newly rebuilt and re-gilded organ in all its visual splendour.
As work now continues to fine-tune the organ’s pipes, some very special performances are being planned to celebrate the return of the impressive organ.
Organ reborn!, the inaugural concert on the rebuilt organ, will take place on 25 November at 7pm and will see internationally-renowned organist Thomas Trotter perform a programme of works including music by Bach, Guilmant, Willan, Dove, Karg-Elert and Mendelssohn. Tickets cost £7.50-£15 and can be booked via www.cathedral.org.uk
An organ festival is also being planned for summer 2024.