Con organ students on European study tour

From top – Gareth Baard, Nico Tjoelker, Sam Giddy and Titus Grenyer

On 1 July, four of the Conservatorium’s organ students jetted off to Europe for a jam-packed, three-week study tour, in the course of which they will get to play more than 20 world-famous historical instruments in Italy, Switzerland, France, Holland and Germany. Under the expert guidance of the Con’s principal organ teacher, Philip Swanton, the students will experience instruments whose origins span more than five centuries – from the Gothic swallows-nest organ in the castle church of Valeria, in Sion, Switzerland (built in 1435 and laying claim to being the oldest playable organ in the world), to the Renaissance organ of San Salvador in Venice and on to the high Baroque and Rococo instruments of Holland and North Germany and the French Romantic organs of Paris and Rouen. A particular highlight will be the chance to play organs known to and played by the greatest master of the organ, Johann Sebastian Bach, including the legendary Silbermann organs of Dresden and Freiberg.

“There is so much to be learnt from an encounter with an original organ”, says Philip Swanton. “The distinctive sounds of each instrument, the way the key- and pedal action responds and the manner in which the ‘lungs’ of the organ – the bellows – breathe can all have a profound effect on the way one plays a piece. Indeed the original instrument itself is, in many respects, the best teacher of all, when it comes to making decisions about interpretation of a particular work”, he says, “and there is definitely something quite sobering about sitting at the console of an organ that is centuries old and playing the very keys that Bach and other famous organists have played”.

In preparation for the tour, the students have been focusing this semester on repertoire specifically chosen to suit the instruments they will be visiting – including some of the earliest surviving pieces for organ at all, from the 15th century. This has also necessitated familiarising them with the ‘short octave’ configuration of notes, which was standard in the lowest octave of many organs before 1700. Thanks to modern technology, this is possible at the click of a button on the new virtual “Hauptwerk” practice organ which the Con acquired last year.

This trip has been made possible through funding from the Richard and Doreen Wilson organ scholarship bequest.

Keep up to date with this amazing tour by following the Conservatorium’s Facebook page and follow the student’s posts using the hashtag #usydontour. The gallery of tour photos can be found on our Facebook page.

Tour itinerary: 1 to 24 July 2017

1 July Leave Sydney
2 to 5 July Italy – Venice, Trevisio
Churches – Chiesa San Polo Venice, Chiesa San Salvador Venice, Tempio Monumentale di San Nicolò Trevisio, Chiesa San Leonardo Trevisio
5 to 8 July Switzerland – Sion, Basel, Arlesheim
Churches – Valeria Castle Sion (the oldest playable organ in the world (1435)), Predigerkirche Basel, Leonhardskirche Basel, Arlesheim Cathedral
8 to 10 July France – Paris, Rouen
Churches – Sacré Coeur Basilica Montmartre, Notre Dame Cathedral Paris, St Sulpice Paris, St Eustache Paris, St Ouen Abbey Rouen
 11 to 14 July The Netherlands – Alkmaar, Amsterdam, Groningen
Churches – St Laurenskerk Alkmaar, St Bavo Harlem, Waalse Kerk Amsterdam, various churches in Groningen
15 to 22 July Germany – Stade, Hamburg, Leipzig, Dresden, Freiberg, Weimar, Arnstadt, Waltershausen, Eisenach, Frankfurt
Churches and others – St Cosmae Stade, St Jakobi Hamburg, Thomaskirche Leipzig, Nikolaikirche Leipzig, Mendelssohn Haus, Lutherstadt Wittenberg (500 year anniversary of Martin Luther’s pinning of the 95 Theses on the front door), Dresden Cathedral, Freiberg Cathedral, St Peter’s (Petrikirche) Freiburg, Stadtkirche St Peter & Paul Weimar; Schloss Belvedere Weimar, Stadtschloss Weimar, Bachkirche St Boniface, Arnstadt (Bach’s first church appointment in 1703), Stadtkirche Waltershausen, Bachhaus Museum Eisenach, Wartburg Castle
24 July Sydney