COFFEE BREAK | One Of Europe’s Largest Concert Hall Organs Brings Venerable Instrument Into 21st Century

Pipes of the organ at the National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra (NOSPR) concert hall (Photo courtesy of NOSPR)

One of the largest new concert hall organs in Europe was recently introduced via a special concert. The new organ at the National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra (NOSPR) concert hall in Katowice, Poland was a project more than five years in the making.

The project was launched in 2017, with an originally scheduled completion of December 2021 — a date delayed by the pandemic and its lingering lockdowns. Polish organ virtuoso and professor Julian Gembalski created the concept for the new NOSPR organ in consultation with noted organ builder Anton Škrabl. Škrabl’s workshop in Slovenia created more than a million parts for the massive instrument, updating tradition for the 21st century.

The instrument comes from the Silesian organ building traditions, taking inspiration from the French Symphonic Organ pioneered by Aristide Cavaille-Coll in the late 1800s. The arrangement of the console is modelled after the instrument Cavaille-Coll built for the cathedral in Rouen. The design includes specifications that incorporate features that allow the instrument to perform German as well as French repertoire.

Details:

  • >7,000 pipes and 105 stops;
  • Measures 13 m high x 9 metres wide x 6 metres deep, with a volume of 150 square metres;
  • Integrated console with four manuals;
  • Dual electro-mechanical action.

Along with the integrated console, there is a mobile console which a performer can use to play alongside the orchestra virtually anywhere on stage. At a cost of 20.6 million Polish złoty (PLN), or 6,342,534 CAD, it’s the largest project ever tackled by Škrabl.

The National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra (NOSPR) concert hall in Katowice opened in 2014 as a home for the orchestra. An organ was always in the plans as a longer term project. The inaugural concert for the organ comes more than eight years after the hall was officially opened.

Latvian organ soloist Iveta Apklana performed with the NOSPR under conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen. The concert, which took place January 13, featured works that emphasized musical modernity by Witold Lutoslawski and Béla Bartók, along with the world premiere of a piece composed by Esa-Pekka Salonen. Salonen is currently composer-in-residence at the Berliner Philharmoniker.

His Sinfonia concertante for organ and orchestra is the result of a joint commission from the NOSPR, the Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Elbphilharmonie.

Before the digital era, the pipe organ was considered one of the most complex machines humankind had ever made. The new instrument builds on that tradition of innovation and brings it into the present day.

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