Orchestra of the Swan are to play in a fundraising concert in aid of Coventry Cathedral’s Diamond Jubilee Organ Appeal, featuring Canadian organist Rachel Mahon and conducted by Michael Collins.
Coventry Cathedral is a unique synthesis of old and new, born of wartime suffering and forged in the spirit of post-war optimism, famous for its history and iconic architecture. Poulenc’s Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani will showcase the magnificent organ alongside a programme of Mahler, Vaughan Williams and Mozart. Orchestra of the Swan will also perform Derek Nisbet’s Symphony of Remembering created especially for the cathedral and featuring testimonies of people who have suffered most recent losses.
The Harrison and Harrison pipe organ was specially commissioned for the new Cathedral in 1962 and funded by Healey Willan, a British-Canadian organist and composer who delivered fundraising concerts across Canada to raise money to repair British organs destroyed in World War II. As a grateful benefactor of these funds, Coventry Cathedral set a giant bronze Maple Leaf in the floor of the west end of the cathedral in recognition of the generosity of Willan and the Canadian people.
As a further testament to the relationship between the UK and Canada, the ceiling was made from Canadian cedar wood, donated by Canada. This is particularly pertinent in a year that will see the staging of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham this summer; even more so as Canada is one of only six countries to have participated in every Commonwealth Games since 1930.
This concert has a dual purpose both as a moment of contemplation and an appeal for regeneration.
Director of Music at the Cathedral Rachel Mahon, was surprised to discover the links between the cathedral and her homeland when she took up the post. She commented, “It’s a stunning instrument. It’s lovely to play as well. I think most organists are in agreement that it is one of the top organs in the UK – they got it completely perfect for the building. The way the organ sounds, it completely fills the space and everything blends.”
After 60 years of daily use and wear, the organ is now in need of restoration and repairs. The entire instrument with its nearly 5000 pipes, needs to be individually cleaned and put back together, as well as replacing broken pipes and outdated electrics. The Diamond Jubilee Organ Appeal Fund aims to raise £1 million for the total cost of the repairs.
The cathedral saw 46,400 visitors in 2019, and continues to remain a favourite amongst those who visit, attracting thousands every year. And with the restoration of one of the most treasured organs in Britain, the organ will be there to see many more thousands of visitors for years to come.
The concert takes place on Saturday 11 June at Coventry Cathedral. Tickets are available to purchase here.