As the 2017/18 classical season begins, legendary organist Dame Gillian Weir announces a new organ scholarship for London’s Southbank Centre - the place where she made her professional debut more than 50 years ago and where she has appeared as soloist more than 50 times. In an unprecedented collaboration for the arts centre, the Dame Gillian Weir Organ Scholarship will fund Southbank Centre’s Organ Scholar (a post that has been in place since 2007) for the next ten years.
The first recipient of the Dame Gillian Weir Organ Scholarship will be David Thomas. David is the Director of Music at St. Mary’s Church in South Croydon, and holds the organ scholarship at St. Martin-in-the-Fields. After reading music at the University of Hull, he studied with David Titterington and Anne Marsden Thomas at the Royal Academy of Music, graduating with the Stephen Bicknell Organ Prize. David became an Associate of the Royal College of Organists in 2016.
Dame Gillian has a long and illustrious history with the Royal Festival Hall’s Harrison and Harrison organ - an instrument designed by her teacher, organist Ralph Downes. She made her professional debut on the organ in 1965 and was, at the time, the youngest organist to perform there. Over the following years, she has given countless performances and broadcasts as recitalist and concerto soloist and has been instrumental in developing new concert repertoire for the organ. She has given significant premieres at the Royal Festival Hall such as the UK premiere of Messiaen’s ‘Méditations sur le Mystère de la Sainte Trinité' in 1973, given at the composer’s request and performed from his original manuscript. Other Royal Festival Hall highlights include Dame Gillian’s 60th birthday concert in 2001, where she was presented with a CD of work written and performed by school-children and a giant organ cake; and a sold-out concert celebrating the organ’s 50th birthday in 2004, when she performed Guilmant’s D minor Symphony with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Her CD ‘On Stage!’ includes a variety of popular concert staples and was the last recording to be made of the organ before it was dismantled for refurbishment in 2005.
In committing to support ten years of the organ scholarship, Dame Gillian enables Southbank Centre’s work to further build the profile of the concert organ and develop repertoire for it. Recipients of the Organ Scholarship spend a year as part of Southbank Centre‘s staff as an ambassador for the organ, learning from Organ Curator Dr William McVicker about the many facets of curating the international organ series, but also bringing the organ to the general public, through Southbank Centre’s year-round festival programming and education and participation activities for all ages.
Dame Gillian Weir said: “The Royal Festival Hall has always been special for me - not only did I make my professional debut here but the organ was designed by my teacher so I had the opportunity to explore it under his direction, whether delving into its internal construction or discovering all its musical possibilities at the keyboard. Since those early days, I have played at Southbank Centre on so many occasions - frequently practising in the middle of the night! - and accumulated a cornucopia of wonderful memories.
"My career as solely a concert performer has been unusual, and I admire the opportunities Southbank Centre is giving through its Organ Scholarship for a young organist to be associated with a great concert hall and to develop his or her talents in the myriad ways possible in such an environment. The donation I am making to Southbank Centre is the smallest drop in the ocean, but I hope it will be a useful drop and I consider it a privilege to be thus continuing my own association with the concert hall that has meant so much to me. I am now looking forward immensely to meeting the successive Scholarship holders and following the progress of their careers."
Gillian Moore MBE, Southbank Centre’s Director of Music, said: “Dame Gillian’s generous support is invaluable in bringing this incredibly unique instrument, steeped in the history of British players, more fully into the public eye, by enabling a further ten years of our vital organ scholarship and the continued development of an exciting new concert programme. The new organ scholar will be integral to the fabric of our new season, from year-round festivals, schools’ and higher education activity to standalone events and performances. This is a very exciting start to the season and we are hugely grateful to Dame Gillian for her wonderful support.”