Leeds Town Hall - the organ renewal project
Condition of the 1972 instrument
Every Monday between September and April an audience of 200-400 has come to hear free organ recitals given by leading organists from this country and abroad. The organ has also been frequently used in the international concert season with visiting choirs and orchestras. It is a highly successful and popular instrument, but nearly 50 years of heavy use, combined with low humidity and powerful heating in the hall have taken their toll. Because of time constraints in 1972 many soundboards and elements of the action were renovated rather than renewed, and some of the completely new work is reaching the end of its life. The Swell in particular, being located at the top of the organ, is suffering from warped sliders and wind leaks, and the increases to the voltage of the action needed to overcome these problems is overloading the solid state control systems. There are also severe access problems for routine maintenance.
Rationale for the rebuild
After various organ builders and our adviser at the time, Ian Bell, had examined the instrument, it was clear that major replacement and renewal of action and principal components was needed. Given the expense and upheaval of doing this work, we had to decide if we should also take the opportunity to make musical changes. The 1972 instrument has a clear and exciting sound, and it can hold its own against a full choir and professional orchestra, but the various changes over the years have reduced its musical integrity, and it has been left with a sound lacking in foundation and missing some of the essential colours needed, in particular for the performance of Romantic repertoire. We considered simply restoring what we had, with the addition and restoration of some of these missing colours, but the eventual conclusion of Nicholson & Co and our new advisor, William McVicker, was that none of the previous incarnations of the instrument had been completely successful. A more fundamental approach was needed to produce an instrument of real integrity and musicality – in fact to retain only much of the pipework, and for everything else – console, action, wind system, expression boxes - even the building frame – to be newly manufactured. The brilliance and clarity achieved in the 1972 rebuild will be retained but the organ will be revoiced to give a fuller and more integrated sound, the colours and voices removed in 1972 will be reintroduced, and one or two extra ones added. The organ will return to six manual divisions - three of them enclosed - playable from four manuals. More details and many more pictures can be found on the Nicholson & Co website.
Progress to July 2022
Dismantling began in November last year and was complete by the end of the year. All the instrument has been returned to Nicholson's works in Malvern except for the largest pipes which have been stored on the floor of the hall. Much exisiting pipework has been restored, and expression boxes, wind systems and soundboards manufactured. New pipework has been also been manufactured and delivered.
Links and more information
Full history of the organ (published 1978) here
The Civic Organ tradition in Leeds - Leeds Library article here