Celebrating 300 years

Thomas Trotter on the Grand Temple’s newly refurbished pipe organ

Tuesday, 08 December 2015

Striking  the right chord

Freemasonry Today caught up with renowned musician Thomas Trotter as he practised on the Grand Temple’s newly refurbished pipe organ for its inaugural concert

The pipes of the Grand Temple organ positively gleam as Thomas Trotter runs through the programme for a special concert to be held in the Temple the next day. The organ’s restoration has used enough gold leaf to cover the surface of a tennis court and introduced a new organ chamber in the centre of the Temple’s east wall. As he practises, Trotter’s hands dance over the three manuals while his feet expertly work the pedals beneath to create an epic sound from Bach’s Toccata in F.

The concert will not only be the culmination of the organ’s refurbishment but also the first of many celebratory events linked to the 2017 Tercentenary. One of Britain’s most widely admired musicians, Trotter is looking forward to playing to a full house: ‘The Grand Temple is a unique space, it’s incredibly plush and sumptuous. The carpets dampen the sound quite a lot so I’m going to have to work hard.’

A grand history

The organ was built by Freemason Henry Willis III for the inauguration of
the Grand Temple in 1933. 

It included numerous state-of-the-art developments that Willis had adopted following visits to the US, many of which were designed to help the instrument cope with its setting: a modern, efficiently heated building. Some 80 years of accumulated wear, however, threatened to irreparably damage the tonal accuracy of its pipes.

Thanks to funding from the Supreme Grand Chapter’s reserves, organ builders Harrison & Harrison of Durham have been able to restore the instrument to its former glory, retaining its console, mechanism and pipework. The projection and presence of the sound has been markedly improved by giving a greater degree of opening to the expressive swell enclosures, within which much of the pipework is situated, and also by removing heavy fabric hangings from the east wall. 

‘The curtaining would have soaked up the sound like a sponge. Now with the marble walls exposed, the sound is reflected off into the hall. It’s like having your windows cleaned – before it would have been a bit musty and unfocused,’ says Trotter. ‘I’m thrilled that people are still spending money on their instruments and buying new ones. There are far fewer organ builders than there were 50 years ago, but the standard is as high as it’s ever been.’

‘All the comments I have received show that the audience really liked being able to see Thomas’s remarkable dexterity, as well as hear the beauty of his playing.’ Charles Grace

Past in tune with present

The refurbishment has seen the addition of a new case on the east wall, clad to match the original design. It contains a chorus of five stops, balanced to augment rather than dominate the Willis sound, and a solo stop for special occasions – the Grand Tuba. ‘In the recital I’m going to use some of the old pipes and compare it with the new stops, which have made a big difference and are quite striking.’ 

The Grand Temple is in good company, with the organs at Westminster Cathedral and Liverpool Cathedral also built by Henry Willis III. ‘Every organ is different, but there are certain characteristics that follow through all the Henry Willis III organs and I can hear them here,’ says Trotter. ‘There’s a certain brightness about some of the stops that are representative of what Willis was doing in the 1930s.’

As the audience take their seats in the Grand Temple the next day, there is an almost palpable sense of expectation about how the organ will sound. With Trotter hidden behind the organ, a camera positioned behind his shoulder will stream his performance onto the wall of the Temple for the audience to see. He does not disappoint. 

‘I was very pleased with the way the concert was received,’ says Charles Grace, Project Manager
for the Grand Temple organ restoration. ‘All the comments I have received show that the audience really liked being able to see Thomas’s remarkable dexterity, as well as hear the beauty of his playing.’

In addition to performing pieces by Bach and masonic composers Mozart and Liszt, Trotter plays Reginald Goss-Custard’s Chelsea Fayre. It’s a fitting nod to the instrument’s proud history, with Goss-Custard’s brother Harry the recitalist at the opening of the Temple organ in 1933.

Note perfect

Thomas Trotter has performed as 
a soloist with conductors Sir Simon
 Rattle, Bernard Haitink and the late Sir Charles 
Mackerras, among many others. He
 regularly gives recitals in venues such as 
the Berlin Philharmonie; Leipzig’s Gewandhaus; the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam; the Musikverein and the Konzerthaus in Vienna; and London’s Royal Festival and Royal Albert Halls. In 2012 he was named International Performer of the Year by the New York Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.

Letters to the Editor - No. 33 Spring 2016

Concerted interest

Sir,

Among your readers there may be many who enjoyed the inaugural organ concert given by Thomas Trotter last September.

This year, again as part of the UGLE Tercentenary celebrations, there will be two further hour-long concerts. 

The first will take place at 5pm on Wednesday, 8 June, featuring Ian Tracey, organist at Liverpool Cathedral, in a wide-ranging programme.

As before, you will be able to see what the organist is doing, with a filmed display on the walls of the Grand Temple. Tickets (for which there is no charge) can be booked at https://goo.gl/zHW67w, and I do hope that many will take advantage of what should be another great occasion.

Charles Grace, Project Manager for the Grand Temple Organ, Freemasons’ Hall, London

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