Leeds Town Hall organ: rebuilding one of the UK’s largest concert hall organs
Why a Victorian giant has been taken apart and how it’s being remade – with Leeds City Organist Darius Battiwalla and organ builder Andrew Caskie of Nicholsons
There’s a huge void at the north end of the Victoria Hall where the organ used to be. The decorative screen of pipes, designed by architect Cuthbert Brodrick, and the thousands that were out of view behind the scenes, were all dismantled in late 2021 and removed. The mechanism and the console are gone.
Most of the pipes are being renewed and this vast and complex machine is being rebuilt on a new frame. The latest techniques of making it all fit together and operate will, perhaps surprisingly, bring the organ back to sounding more like its original self when it was new in the 1850s.
In the talk, Darius explained why such a radical approach has been taken. It includes some of the discoveries made during the deconstruction, and the video gives you a close-up view of main elements of this huge task of remaking and reconstruction.
It so happens that the only remaining pipe-making firms in the UK are both in Leeds: F. Booth & Son (voicers) Ltd of Stanningley and Shires of Bramley. David Hall of Booths explained how their traditional specialisms are contributing to the renewed organ and what has to happen to the pipes to make them sound as intended. Andrew Caskie, organ builder, of Nicholson’s in Malvern, summarised their role in co-ordinating the whole project.
During Leeds2023 Year of Culture we can at least trumpet some good news about the potential of this ‘king of instruments’ to sound even more glorious in future, though it will not be able to take part itself.
Donations towards the fund for rebuilding the organ can be made via The Brodrick Trust. The total cost of this huge project is £1.8m. There is even an option to ‘adopt a pipe’ for as little as £5 for 2ft pipes, up to £20 for a 16ft pipe. Adopters get their own specially designed certificate.
The video of the presentation is here. Darius starts to speak at just over four and a half minutes in.
Darius Battiwalla took up the post of Leeds City Organist in 2017, programming the very successful Town Hall recital series and giving regular solo concerts. He also plays great organs around the country and abroad, playing with top orchestras and conductors. As well as traditional organ works, he has performed with the Black Dyke Band, been part of a Northern Ballet Theatre production and explored the cinema organ repertoire.
Darius was born in Islington, London in 1966. His mother is from Lancashire and his father from a Parsee family in Bombay. He began to play the piano by ear at a very early age, later taking up the cello and finally the organ, becoming organist at St Mary, Islington when he was only 13. After school days in Highgate, he studied music at the University of Leeds. With first-class honours he then completed his studies with postgraduate diplomas in organ (with distinction) and piano accompaniment from the Royal Northern College of Music, where he won prizes on both instruments. He also completed a MusM in performance at Manchester University.
Darius taught organ and improvisation for many years at the Royal Northern College of Music and is a tutor for courses run by the Royal College of Organists. He is also an experienced and versatile conductor.
Reflecting his links to both Leeds and Manchester, he lives in Hebden Bridge with his partner Hannah and their three children.
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