Former organist visits New Zealand
Having resigned from my post at Romsey Abbey in January 2004 in order to give myself more time to carry out his examining commitments for Trinity College London, the examination department of the internationally-renowned conservatoire Trinity College of Music, I was privileged to spend five weeks this summer examining on New Zealand’s North Island.
I spent the bulk of this time in Auckland, the country’s largest city, but I also travelled north to Whangerei and, at the end of the tour, to Napier, New Zealand’s famous Art Deco city, which was rebuilt in 1931 following a devastating earthquake.
During the tour I examined over 400 candidates from grade one through to diploma level, mainly on piano, but with some other instruments as well. New Zealand is Trinity’s largest overseas centre with eight exam sessions during the year and the Trinity diplomas are the standard by which anyone contemplating a career as a professional musician in New Zealand is judged.
It was not all work, though. I was joined for most of the trip by my wife Diane and sight-seeing included a trip to the top of Auckland’s 1000-foot Sky Tower, a visit to the volcanic island Rangitoto, which emerged from beneath the sea only 600 years ago, and a boat trip out into the Hauraki Gulf to see the whales and dolphins.
I was also given the opportunity to sample some of the organs, especially the organs in Auckland’s two cathedrals. The recently completed Holy Trinity Cathedral has a large three manual instrument of 64 ranks, which was built by Harrisons in 1968. The organ has a 32 foot Double Salicional front. The sound is quite exciting with a fine battery of reeds, but the mixtures tend to scream a bit too much for my taste and the lack of wooden ranks results in a feeling of lacking warmth.
Next door, in the Old Cathedral of St Mary, there is a smaller three manual instrument of 30 stops built in 1907 by George Croft, an Auckland based organ builder. This instrument had real sweetness and charm with no shortage of warmth in the ensemble. It was certainly my favourite and was not too dissimilar in design and sound to the Walker at Romsey Abbey. Perhaps that has something to do with it
Another instrument that I played was at Napier Cathedral, again built by Croft, but re-built in 1975 incorporating old and newer material. With 53 stops over three manuals and pedal the specification looked exciting on paper, but in reality I found it rather disappointing and lacking in character. There were many more organs to explore, but insufficient time to do so. I can only hope that Trinity asks me to go back again, which I would do gladly!