At lunchtime on Thursday 24th November, organist Alistair Nelson performs music by three giants of French organ music at the organ of St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney. As well, there is music by Howells and Koehne.
All the repertoire in the performance dates from the late 19th century and into the 20th century.
Camille Saint-Saens (1835 -1921) was an expert organist who worked for 20 years at Paris’ Church of the Madeleine. Louis Vierne’s, (1870-1937) talent was prodigious enough to overcome his congenital blindness. After studying at the Paris Conservatory he was appointed assistant to Charles-Marie Widor at the Church of Saint Sulpice in Paris, and afterwards was principal organist at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame for 37 years.
Music so often runs in families, and readers who are familiar with the performing talents of organists Olivier and Marie-Claire Alain may know of their composer brother Jehan (1911 – 1940). (Incidentally their father, Albert studied with Vierne).
Across the channel. Herbert Howells (1892-1983) was playing a significant role in English cathedral music and inherited a rich tradition of performance and composition from his teachers at the Royal College of Music – Charles Villers Stanford and Hubert Parry.
Finally to 1983 and Australian composer Grahame Koehne’s Gothic Toccata.
Camille Saint-Saëns Prelude and Fugue in E-flat
Jehan Alain Aria
Louis Vierne Hymne au soleil
Herbert Howells Psalm-Prelude Set 1, no. 2
Grahame Koehne Gothic Toccata
Alistair Nelson has been Acting Organist at St. James’ Church since September 2011 where he is enjoying accompanying the splendid Choir of St James, indulging his love of organ improvisation, appreciating the fine liturgy at St. James and making music with the newly formed St. James Singers.
Alistair Nelson obtained his Master of Music Degree at Yale University. and has spent the last four years in New York where he was Associate Organist and Choirmaster at the Cathedral of the Incarnation, Garden City. He also sang in vocal ensembles Khorikos and Upper West Sound, and served on the staff of the Montreal Boys’ Choir course.
Alistair was born in London and grew up in Sydney. He began his organ studies at Trinity Grammar School with Heather Moen, and was Organ Scholar for Peter McMillan at St. Anne’s Strathfield and St. Paul’s Burwood. He graduated with a Bachelor of Music (Honours First Class) at the University of Sydney, studying with Robert Ampt. He was also a member of choirs such as Vox and Polyphony.
Before moving to the United States, Alistair Nelson was Assistant Organist at Christ Church St. Laurence. In July 2005 he won the First Prize (the John Brown Award) in the Sydney Organ Competition, and he also made a Young Performers recording for the ABC, which. along with his Yale degree recital, was broadcast on the Rising Stars program of ABC Classic FM. He plans to make another recording in the near future, featuring a transcription of Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.