The Grand Celebration Concert

Friday 9th September 2016

On the evening of Friday 9th September, the nave, south transept and choir of Selby Abbey, Yorkshire, were filled to capacity by an excited audience gathered together for an orchestral and organ concert marking the completion of a £6-million restoration programme of the church launched in 2000. The most recent stage and culmination of this work has been the rebuilding of the celebrated William Hill organ by Principal Pipe Organs of York, led by Geoffrey Coffin.

A richly-illustrated souvenir programme containing articles by organ legends Rosalinde Haas and Nicolas Kynaston was distributed to invited guests who included Dr Francis Jackson CBE, now 99 years old. From 1946 to 1982 Dr Jackson was Organist and Master of the Choristers at York Minster.

Under conductor Adrian Partington, Music Director of Gloucester Cathedral, the Royal Northern Sinfonia, described by The Guardian as the best chamber orchestra in Britain, began the concert with that most British of pieces, Sir Edward Elgar’s Cockaigne Overture. Roger Tebbet, Director of Music at Selby Abbey sat at the organ and we heard it for the first time in the Overture’s thundering closing bars. Then, John Scott Whiteley, the Jongen specialist and author of Joseph Jongen and His Organ Music, was soloist in Jongen’s Symphonie Concertante of 1926.

Negotiating Jongen’s crowded canvas, conductor Adrian Partington cleverly balanced the orchestra with its lively winds, allowing us to hear Scott Whiteley deftly exploit the many colours of the organ with breath-taking virtuosity.

Selby’s Hill organ first came to international prominence when Fernando Germani, organist of St Peter’s in Rome and a player of formidable technique and musicality, chose the instrument to make a number of important and memorable recordings. Having heard the instrument’s warm choruses filling the ancient Abbey church with glorious sound in the Elgar and Jongen, we easily understood why Germani had chosen this organ for his historic series of recordings.

After the interval the supremely gifted organ virtuoso D’Arcy Trinkwon played Alexandre Guilmant’s Op.91 Symphonie No.2 in A major. Trinkwon’s musical generosity has endeared him to Selby audiences over the last two years, and his subtle yet magisterial command of the instrument was spell-binding; he knows no technical difficulties and his playing was in perfect accord with Partington and the Royal Northern Sinfonia. After this triumphant performance, prolonged cheering and applause compelled Scott Whiteley and Trinkwon to return to the console to thrill the audience with Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries arranged for four hands and flying feet.

What followed was the thunderous applause of a standing ovation lasting several minutes, something that had almost certainly never before occurred in the 947-year history of the Norman Abbey. The quality of the Hill organ and its restoration had been demonstrated in virtuoso performances, and the audience’s applause was an expression of gratitude for an extraordinary evening of music.

"Tonight this organ will once more be heard in all its glory and we are indebted to all whose vision, generosity, skill and commitment have made this possible."

Rt Revd Dr John Thomson

Bishop of Selby