Northern Ireland International Organ Competition to go ahead in Belfast on 23 and 24 October 2020

The Northern Ireland International Organ Competition (NIIOC) is set to go ahead on 23 and 24 October 2020, but the venue has been changed to St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast. The competition had been postponed from August to due to the Covid-19 pandemic and would have taken place over three days in Armagh. However permission has now been granted by the Dean of Belfast, the Very Reverend Stephen Forde, for a streamlined version of the event to take place in St Anne’s, a much larger building where social distancing will be easier. 

NIIOC is open to organists aged 21 and under, but a temporary change to the rules for this year only means that performers who would have been eligible to take part on the original dates, but would be 22 by 24 October, will be allowed to apply. Only the Senior section of the competition will now take place, on Friday 23 October. Shortlisting will be by reference rather than by submission of recordings, again for this year only. The deadline for entries, including the completed application form, is Monday 28 September at 12 noon.

The jury for the organ competition will be chaired by the French organist Sophie-Véronique Cauchefer-Choplin Professor of Organ Studies at the Royal College of Music, London, replacing David Titterington, Head of Organ Studies at the Royal Academy of Music, London and Artistic Director of the St Alban’s International Organ Competition, who has a prior commitment on the new dates. Professor Cauchefer-Choplin will be joined by by regular jury member David Hill, artistic director of the Bach Choir, London, the Yale Schola Cantorum, Connecticut and of the Charles Wood Summer School, which runs concurrently with the organ competition. The third jury member will be Simon Harden, Organist and Director of Music at Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford, and lecturer in organ and conductor of the Choral Society at Technological University, Dublin.

Professor Chauchefer-Choplin will give a masterclass in St Anne’s Cathedral on Saturday 24 October at 11 am.

The first prize winner of NIIOC 2020 will receive £1,500 and recitals in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London; Westminster Abbey, London; St. Thomas Fifth Avenue, New York City; Liverpool Anglican Cathedral; Trinity College, Cambridge and St. Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast. There are also cash and recital prizes for the second and third placed competitors, and recitals the winners of the Dame Gillian Weir Medal and the Bach prize. 

This will be the tenth edition of NIIOC and plans are under way for a number of events to take place in 2021 celebrating the first ten winners, many of whom are now players of international standing. They include the first winner Ben Comeau – who has a successful parallel career as a composer – Ben Bloor, Andrew Forbes, Mona Rozdestvenstkyte and Sebastian Heindl.

Richard Yarr, chair of NIIOC, said: ‘Performing on the Harrison and Harrison organ of St Anne’s Cathedral, built in 1907 and enlarged in 1968-75, will be a real treat for our competitors. We are very grateful to the Dean and to the Director of Music, Matthew Owens, for making the cathedral available to us.

‘While we are very sorry not to be hosting the 2020 competition in the beautiful city of Armagh where we have previously been so welcome, in these unprecedented circumstances it makes sense to accept the generous hospitality of Belfast Cathedral. Travel for competitors from outside Northern Ireland will be greatly simplified, and most importantly there will be plenty of space and additional facilities for us to manage the competition within the guidelines now established for public gatherings.

‘The health and safety of our competitors, and all those who visit, is of paramount importance. We will, of course, monitor all official advice over the coming weeks. However we very much hope that the conditions will be right in October to choose our tenth NIIOC winner.’

The Dean of Belfast said: 

‘Although the move to Belfast was unexpected, Belfast Cathedral is a stunning setting for this prestigious competition. I very much look forward to welcoming competitors, judges and audiences to enjoy this year’s competition within the spacious surroundings of the cathedral, and to relish the skill of some of the most promising organists of their generation.’

Full details of the entry procedure including opening and closing dates, monetary prizes and recitals, can be found on the competition website.

or contact the competition organisers by email

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