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A major, once-a-century project to refurbish York Minster’s Grand Organ has started at the cathedral this week.
Throughout October, organ specialists Harrison and Harrison will remove the instrument – including almost all its 5,403 pipes – and take it to their workshop in Durham for repair and rebuilding.
The refurbishment work is the first on this scale since 1903. It will cost £2m and take around two years to complete, with the restored instrument due to be ready for use in autumn 2020.
Robert Sharpe, Director of Music at York Minster, said: “Organ music has been at the heart of worship at York Minster for nearly 1,000 years and we hope this project will allow us to continue that tradition throughout the 21st century and beyond.”
The current instrument dates from the early 1830s and is one of the largest cathedral organs in the country, weighing approximately 20,000kg. Its 5,403 pipes range in length from the size of a pencil to 10m long.
Due to their regular use and environment, cathedral organs ideally need small-scale cleaning and adjustment every 15 to 20 years, with more extensive repairs carried out every 30 to 35 years and a major refurbishment every 100 years.
The project involves replacing the organ’s mechanism, extensive work to dismantle, clean and overhaul the instrument and minor changes to the organ case to both improve how it looks and the sound it allows out. This includes returning to use the majority of the 100 decorative case pipes, which have been silent since the last major project in 1903.
The plans also include creating a new music library underneath the organ, inside the screen which separates the Quire from the Nave, subject to the relevant permissions being obtained.
This project aims to ensure the unique sound of the Minster’s organ is preserved, while restoring the grander, imposing qualities of the instrument which were altered during work in the 1960s.
During the two years of refurbishment work, the Minster’s full music programme will continue. A grand piano will be used alongside an existing chamber organ in the Quire and a digital organ will serve both the Nave and Quire.
The £2m project is being funded by donations and funding from the Chapter of York’s reserves, but public donations would also be welcomed.
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