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Organ fanfare in praise of Father Willis

Union Chapel’s famous organ is celebrated in a three-day festival, with new commissions and rare performances

12 October, 2017 — By Sebastian Taylor

Werner Krauss and Conrad Veidt in the 1920 film, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, which will be screened on Sunday at Union Chapel with live score

THE fabulous 1877 “Father Willis” organ in Union Chapel, Islington – one of the finest organs in the world – is being celebrated in a three-day festival opening this Friday evening (October 13).

“Our Organ Reframed festival features eight new commissions and rare performances from musicians and other artists,” says the festival’s artistic director Claire Singer. “The festival seeks to challenge artists and audiences to rethink the organ, thereby re-invigorating this remark­able instrument and embedding it in the music of the 21st century.”

Union Chapel’s legendary organ was built in 1877 by Henry “Father” Willis, the foremost 19th-century organ builder responsible for constructing more than 1,000 organs. It is only organ left in England with a fully working hydraulic – ie water powered – blowing system which can be used as an alternative to electric blowers.
Its sounds vary from angelic soft delicacies to roaring thunder, a veritable symphonic orchestra of tones at the organist’s fingertips.

Other organs built by “Father Willis” include those at Alexandra Palace, Royal Albert Hall and St Paul’s Cathedral.

Highlights of the Organ Reframed festival include:

Friday October 13
• 6.30pm, £12.50: Six world premieres from composers at the forefront of new music, including avant-garde pioneer Phil Niblock and classical/electronic composer Emily Hall.

Saturday October 14
• 12 noon, pay-what-you-can/suggested ticket price £5: Daylight Music session with organ music curated by Arctic Circle.
• 6.30pm, £20/cons £17.50: World premiere of work by minimalist soundscapers Low with support­ing performance by Claire Singer

Sunday October 15
• 11am, free: Morning service with Union Chapel Singers et al
• 6.30pm, £12.50: Enjoy a spine-tingling experience with the screening of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari accompanied by new score from ambient drone masterminder Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie. Performed by James McVinnie organ; London Contemporary Orchestra soloists and LCO choir.

Organ Reframed runs from October 13-15 at Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, N1 2UN. Full details/tickets at

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