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World premiere for composition celebrating the return of York Minster’s Grand Organ

25 Nov, 2021

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A new composition written to celebrate the return of York Minster’s Grand Organ following a once-in-a-century refurbishment will receive its world premiere on Sunday at the cathedral’s Advent Procession service.

The piece, Toccata on ‘Wachet Auf’ written by David Halls, is the winning entry in the aged 19 and over category of the Grand Organ Composers’ Competition, which was launched in June to mark the instrument’s return after a £2m refurbishment project which started in 2018.

The competition, which was run in partnership with the Cathedral Music Trust and Banks Music Publications, attracted more than 60 entries from amateur and professional musicians across two categories – aged 19 and over and 18 and under.

The winner of the 18 and under category will be announced next month ahead of the winning composition receiving its first performances during the Minster’s Nine Lessons and Carol services on 22 and 24 December.

Ben Morris, York Minster’s Assistant Director of Music, said: “We were delighted with the response to the competition which attracted a high calibre of entries.

“The competition was designed to celebrate the Grand Organ’s return at the heart of worship in the cathedral, continuing a heritage which goes back centuries.

“It’s been fantastic to be able to invite people to be part of this landmark project, adding to this rich musical history while celebrating the instrument’s future.”

The competition was judged by a panel of industry experts including New York-based composer Nico Muhly, composer and former York Minster Organist and Master of Music Philip Moore, British composer Roxanna Panufnik, Canadian-born organist, conductor and composer Sarah MacDonald and York Minster’s Assistant Director of Music Ben Morris.

As well as hearing his piece played at the Minster’s Advent Procession service, Mr Halls will receive a financial prize and his composition will be printed by Banks Music Publications.

Second prize was awarded to Stephen Barber for Toccata on ‘Creator alme siderum’ and third prize to Liam Condon for Veni ad Salvandum nos, with both runners-up receiving financial prizes.

Tickets are required to attend this year’s Advent Procession to help the cathedral safely manage visitor numbers inside, and the service is now fully booked, but people can listen to the composition’s premiere by joining the livestream of the service via the cathedral’s website. Visit www.yorkminster.org/whats-on for further details and to access the livestream from 5.30pm on Sunday (28 November).

The project to refurbish the Grand Organ started in 2018 and was the first refurbishment of the instrument on this scale since 1903. It involved the removal of the organ, including nearly all of its 5,000 plus pipes, to organ specialists in Durham for cleaning, repair and replacement.

The instrument was rebuilt and voiced over several months from summer 2020, before returning to use as part of services in March this year with a formal dedication by the Archbishop of York on Easter Day (Sunday 4 April).

A programme of events to celebrate the organ’s return will continue throughout 2022, including a series of inaugural recitals planned for the summer.

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