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Interview with Huw Williams, sub-organist

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document About the concert
linked document Saint Paul's Cathedral, London

MICHAEL BARONE: So often, the choirs from England come through our country and provide marvelous programs and we talk to their directors, sometimes we talk to the little choristers, rarely does the fellow whose shoulders so much must be born gets any credit at all so I thought it would only be fair enough tell me about how you got to where you are. Did you begin as a chorister and then decided it was more fun watching the organist and turning his pages?

HUW WILLIAMS: No. I was born in Swansea in South Wales and I played the piano in the various music festivals which we call Eisteddfods, Welsh music festivals in Wales and enjoyed playing the piano but was persuaded to play the organ by my school teacher and the thing that took off for me was the fact that in church you're performing twice a week whereas the piano, in the Eisteddfods is once or twice a year. I suppose as a born performer, you want to have an audience and twice a week was quite a benefit and a big advantage of playing the organ. At the age of 18, I was encouraged to apply for an organ scholarship in Cambridge University and I went in 1989 as organ scholar of Christ College, Cambridge, which has a mixed choir of sopranos and altos, ladies and tenors and basses, obviously gentlemen. So, I was there for three years, then I came to London as a post graduate to study at the Royal Academy of Music, which is when I first encountered John, really, as I came as organ scholar at St. Paul's Cathedral for about a year and a half in the early 90s. Then my first proper professional job was in Hereford Cathedral. As I proudly say, the thing about Hereford which is famous is it's near Wales and has a very famous, they claim to be the oldest choral festival of it's kind which dates back until the mid 19 th century. And the three choirs festival which we share with Gloucester and Hereford and Worcester and then I came back to St. Paul's in 1999 as the new sub-organist.

How did you pick Widor IIX Final as your sassy second half showpiece?

As you can see from the structure of the program there's a kind of chronological development from early, what we call “cave” music, the old music, to the more modern stuff and inevitably the old stuff has to be contemporary with Gibbons or Bach in fact, second half you can obviously you can study more choice and I suppose the most obvious piece tends to be from the French Romantic style because it tends to show the organ at it's most glorious. The French organs have this ventil system which basically meant that you had 5 or 6 levels of dynamics so a very simple crescendo was possible. And giving that we're traveling and given 8 organs in 14 or 12 days, and you have a few hours on each organ, I decided to choose a relatively simply piece to register, and the French Romantic is one of the ones we like doing.

What I was struck by when I first heard John back in 1980 when he came over as the assistant organist to the choir and then watching you prepare this program, is how fearless you are and how exact you are in approaching an instrument which must be totally strange to you and yet even as you are learning the sounds and applying your hands to the keyboards and feet to the pedals, there's never a note amiss. I'm just astonished.

Well, that's a lovely compliment. I don't know what to say really. It's an interesting experience going from organ to organ and of course, this is the end of our tour, so this is really the eighth organ American organ although, actually I proudly say, one of the organs we played in Atlanta was a British organ, the Manders firm. But the eighth organ that I've played in America. And I've played a few others this year. You sort of get a hang of certain nuances about the American organ to the British organ. And so, not saying that it was easy today, but it's getting easier towards the end of a tour because you know to a broad extent what you will expect when you approach the new organ.

Have you made any solo CDs yet?

Funnily enough, my first organ CD has just come out this last two weeks on the priory label and it's Christmas music from St. Paul's Cathedral.

What's the big piece on there? Is there something unusual?

Yes. Well, there are unusual pieces it's difficult repertoire to play, Christmas. Apart from the famous Bach and Buxtehude composers and then from the 20 th century, Messiaen, there's a large gap particularly of the well known tunes for Christmas. But I've avoided Messiaen, Bach and Buxtehude. The big party piece at the end is Mulet Carillon Sortie. I mean, Carillon is the, I suppose the general Christmassy kind of theme. But, there's quite a range of composers, you know, some British, some American and some European.

John have you done any solo stuff lately?

I haven't actually, not for a few years. But I will be doing some more next year. In January I'll be recording the Whitlock Sonata for Hyperion, so it will be an all Whitlock disk. And I have plans to do another Priory recording on the Buzard organ in Rockford in Illinois.

And your Whitlock disk, will that include the fantasy chorales per chance?

It will include the D flat fantasy chorale, certainly.

Is that the second one?

That's the second one. Yes.

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