BBC 3 airs LCM Professor’s new major organ composition

Manchester Cathedral organ

The world première performance of a new composition from London College of Music’s Professor Francis Pott aired on BBC Radio 3 on Tuesday 26 September 2017.

La Chiesa del Sole was commissioned by the Dean and Chapter of Manchester Cathedral to mark the inauguration of the new Stoller organ - a development awaited ever since wartime damage had left the old instrument partially incapacitated. The 25-minute work received its concert world première performance from the internationally celebrated organist Thomas Trotter, in a recital to a packed Manchester Cathedral on 14 September 2017.

The music fulfils a 40-year-old wish to respond compositionally to the 11th-century Basilica of San Miniato, overlooking the Tuscan metropolis of Florence from its hilltop in 'Oltrarno', the district so named because it lies across the River Arno from the main part of the city (where the composer lived for some months during 1976). Soon after the concert première, Acis Recordings will release a performance of the same work by Christian Wilson, part of a disc entirely of organ music by Francis, recorded on the Marcussen organ in the Chapel of Tonbridge School, Kent, in March 2017.

Francis comments:

‘The title of the piece means ‘The Church of the Sun’, and it suggested itself to me because when the sun crosses the façade of the building, its white marble surfaces seem almost to become luminous. The request from Manchester was for a 15-minute toccata – ‘toccata’ being from the Italian word for ‘to touch’, and denoting a piece designed to show off virtuosity at the keyboard. I realised that fifteen minutes of that would pretty quickly outstay its welcome, and I was wondering how to get around the problem. The answer that presented itself is actually a sad one: a couple of years ago the musical world had been stunned to learn of the death in New York of the inspirational British organist and choral director, John Scott, seemingly from a thrombosis following a long-haul flight home from a recital tour in Europe. I’d known John since my university days in Cambridge and he’d been the first organist of international stature to perform my work. I asked whether the Dean and Chapter at Manchester would accept my dedicating my piece to John’s memory, and they gladly agreed, not least because his home city of Wakefield lay only thirty miles away and to some extent they had regarded him as one of their own.

'Although the resulting piece has plentiful ‘fireworks’ and is principally a celebration (both of Manchester and of John), it also has two more melancholy episodes and is structurally more complex than a conventional toccata. It was brilliantly played by Thomas Trotter, who coincidentally was also a friend of both mine and John Scott’s at university. I’m very pleased also that another brilliant performer, Christian Wilson, has recorded the work already and his interpretation will be released during the autumn.’

You can listen to the performance at Manchester Cathedral on BBC 3 here.