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Work to rebuild York Minster’s Grand Organ enters final phases

15 Sep, 2020

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Work to rebuild York Minster’s Grand Organ as part of a once-a-century project to refurbishment the instrument is nearing completion at the cathedral.

Specialist organ builders Harrison and Harrison are today returning some of the recently restored decorative pipes, dating from the 1800s, to the organ’s case – after work started to rebuild the instrument in June.

The organ, which is one of the largest in the country and includes 5,403 pipes, was removed from the Minster in October 2018 and taken to the company’s specialist workshop in Durham for cleaning, repair and replacement.

Parts of the instrument were returned to the cathedral at the end of 2019 and in January this year, before work on the £2m project, the first on this scale since 1903, paused in March due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

The final parts of the rebuild of the instrument are due to be completed by early October, following which the scaffolding will be removed before the organ is ‘voiced’, a process to ensure the pipes’ notes and volume levels are playing correctly.

It is hoped the refurbished instrument will be back in use by spring 2021.

Robert Sharpe, Director of Music at York Minster, said: “We’re delighted to have reached this stage in the project and to see all the amazing craftsmanship which has gone into refurbishing the Grand Organ coming together.

“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 decorative pipes being returned today are part of a set of 102 pipes which decorate the organ’s case. They are some of the oldest surviving pipes in the organ dating from 1832, when a new organ was built following an arson attack in the Quire in 1829 which destroyed the previous instrument.

They have been silent for more than 100 years, following the last major refurbishment of the instrument in 1903, but as part of the current project the majority will be brought back into musical use.

During the refurbishment it was found that around 30 of the original case pipes were beyond economic repair and they have been replaced, with the originals auctioned last autumn to help raise funds for the project.

The remaining originals were cleaned and repainted inside the cathedral last autumn by graining and marbling specialists Robert Woodland & Son, who also decorated the new pipes to match the originals.

Originally painted green, the case pipes were updated in 1859 to the distinctive gold, green, cream and red decoration seen today.

The once-a-century refurbishment has also included replacing the organ’s mechanism and extensive work to clean and overhaul the instrument. A new music library has also been created underneath the organ, inside the screen which separates the cathedral’s Quire from its Nave.

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