Friday, June 21, 2024

Grand celebration for Hobart’s grand organ

The striking centrepiece of the City of Hobart’s magnificent Town Hall ballroom is set to receive the celebration it deserves.

The visually and audibly spectacular Grand Organ will be played by internationally acclaimed Australian concert organist Thomas Heywood to mark its 150th anniversary on Sunday, September 25.

Originally set for 2020, the event was postponed for two years due to COVID, but now the people of Hobart can come witness this incredible instrument played by the only musician in Australia capable of the feat.

The organ was ordered from London’s JW Walker & Sons in 1868 for a princely sum of £950 (more than $200,000 in today’s Australian currency) with the following strict instructions from the City of Hobart’s first organist Frederick Packer in 1868.

“I cannot again too strongly impress upon you the necessity of avoiding anything screamy or noisy in tone,” Mr Packer wrote.

“The Hall is a magnificent room for sound and a noisy Organ would be a perfect abomination in it.”

JW Walker & Sons certainly fulfilled its brief as, upon arrival in 1870, it was dubbed the second-best instrument of its kind in the southern hemisphere.

Lord Mayor Anna Reynolds, who will launch a commemorative feature-length DVD and CD at the concert, said the Town Hall pipe organ had played an important part in the city’s history.

“Since its opening in 1866, the Town Hall has been an important place for social and formal gatherings and special occasions,” Lord Mayor Reynolds said.

“The pipe organ has provided a musical backdrop to many moments in Hobart’s history and this concert will celebrate the role it’s played.

“This concert will, in effect, create the next piece of the organ’s – and the Town Hall’s – continuing history.”

Sydney-based Mr Heywood said it was an honour and a privilege to be part of the celebration of such a magical instrument.

“The 150th anniversary concert’s going to be showcasing the magnificent, varied and unique history of the Hobart Town Hall Grand Organ,” Mr Heywood said.

“When the City commissioned (wife) Simone and I to make the first DVD/CD of the instrument, we called it ‘The Heart of Hobart’ as that’s exactly what these wonderful musical instruments were designed to be – the musical and cultural heart of the city.

“They can reach out to, and entertain, the widest possible audience, and take people to another world – if even for a short time.”

While no two organs were the same, he said the City of Hobart Grand Organ was an exquisite example of its era due to its craftsmanship and maintenance.    

“The Hobart Town Hall Grand Organ is a particularly fine example of a concert pipe organ,” he said.

“It was no-expense-spared stuff back in the 19th-century, when it was ordered and shipped at great expense from England, and that it survives to this day speaks volumes about the build-quality of the instrument, and the care given to it over the last 150 years.

“Instruments like this need major attention about every 50 years which, when you think about it, is incredible.

“What else can you work on, and then use regularly, that lasts for half a century without needing major work?

“And that’s another wonderful thing about these instruments – it’s like one generation’s gift to the next.

“Here are we, in 2022, benefitting directly from all the hard work of the council and first Hobart City Organist, Mr Packer, back in the 1860s.

“It really is a special and precious living tradition.”

The free, ticketed 150th anniversary concert will be held at the City of Hobart’s Town Hall on Sunday, September 25, from 2pm, and has already reached capacity.

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