Ireland’s largest organ is put through its paces

Monday March 23rd 2009

Paul Hale at the organ in St Peter's.A new organ in St Peter’s Parish Church, Antrim Road, Belfast, has been dedicated by the Bishop of Connor, the Rt Rev Alan Abernethy.

Both the organ and a new suite of halls were dedicated on the first Sunday of 2009. 

The organ is the first of its type in Northern Ireland, combining conventional pipe stops with state of the art digital ones from Phoenix Organs NI.  It is also the largest organ in the whole island of Ireland with 138 stops spread over four manuals and pedals.

St Peter’s organist, Stephen Hamill, said: “This is a new dawn, because it provides a means of enlarging instruments without harming what is already there.  The costs can be substantially less – especially when you consider that a real 32 foot stop might well cost £25,000 and the digital equivalent about a tenth of that.  Whenever you factor in the space requirements, the digital option has a lot going for it.”

Guest organist Paul Hale (left) with St Peter's regular organist Stephen Hamill.The Bishop’s dedication started off a series of events which featured the organ in a primary role.

The first of these was the Dedicatory Recital which was given by Paul Hale, Cathedral Organist at Southwell Minster in Nottingham.  This was a splendid affair, where the organ was put through its paces by a true master. 

The audience were treated to music from Germany, France, Belgium, Canada and England, covering the last few decades of the seventeenth century right up to the middle of the twentieth.    Paul rounded off with an encore by Nigel Ogden (BBC Organist Entertains) which took the tune “When the Saints” and treated it in true cinema organ fashion.   Many of the audience confessed that they couldn’t tell the difference between the digital stops and the pipe ones when chatting at the wine and cheese reception afterwards.

The Bishop of Connor, the Rt Rev Alan Abernethy, takes a seat at the St Peter's organ which he dedicated earlier this year.Paul Hale commented: “The St Peter's organ is simply the finest ‘combination’ organ anywhere in the British Isles.  Not only that but its uniquely complete stop-list means that anything can be played on it.  A triumph!”

This recital was followed a few weeks later with a special service of Choral Evensong sung by the Priory Singers which made good use of the organ’s available resources.

The next event will be a performance by the Renaissance Singers of John Stainer’s “Crucifixion” on April 3 at 8pm.

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