St Bride's: Music - Lunchtime Recitals

Geoff Howells – organ

Friday, 27 July at 1:15pm - FREE ADMITTANCE - Retiring Collection

Geoff Howells – organ

J S Bach

Prelude and Fugue in B Minor, BWV 544

D Buxtehude

Magnificat Primi Toni, BuxWV 203

G Böhm

'Vater unser im Himmelreich'   

Francis Jackson

Toccata, Chorale and Fugue

Geoff Howells is based in South Wales where his time is divided between performing early and classical repertoire on the organ, directing two vocal ensembles, BellaDonna and Early Byrd, and in composing his own music - often for his ensembles to sing. He is also a strong supporter of living composers who write concert music for the organ and is always looking to perform new material and to explore possibilities of using the organ with a combination of instruments or media.

The music of Dietrich Buxtehude and Johann Sebastian Bach are at the heart of all of Geoff's playing. He likes to present the music, as far as possible, in a 'chamber music' kind of environment where performer, audience and music are close and there is a feeling of real connection. He has two baroque organ music series running on weekday afternoons in beautiful village churches. In both cases the instruments are small and modest in scope but are able to project the music perfectly to an audience gathered around the organ. The informal character of these performances seems to catch the spirit that Bach intended with his 'coffee concerts'! The driving force behind this is to put the organ into a place in the musical spectrum where it is seen as more than just a liturgical resource, admirable as that element of its work often can be. Dietrich Buxtehude, Johann Sebastian Bach, together with composers such as Jan Pieterzoon Sweelinke, Johann Pachelbel and Georg Bohm wrote music for connoisseurs, music so complex and ambitious that it transcended the regular liturgy. Geoff's mission is to see the organ as a mainstream concert instrument and perform these pieces in this context.

Geoff's composing/arranging work falls into three categories, firstly preparing performing versions of medieval chants, songs and motets, secondly setting the words of great poets, words that have a wider and more universal message than that contained in the immediate context, and thirdly writing about people and the things that affect their lives - sometimes to his own texts, sometimes instrumentally. The style is his own but draws on plainsong, early modes, the blues and traditional folk, classical styles of different cultures and on the baroque counterpoint that is the bedrock of his own playing. His song cycle 'Poet's Corner' had its first performance last year and will be performed twice more in the coming months while 'In His Temple - settings of texts by the metaphysical poet George Herbert  -  was first performed in June this year.

It is fair to say that, apart from the composers mentioned earlier and the awe-inspiring Ludwig van Beethoven, his interest in Western classical music rather tails off after the death of William Byrd. Like a good number of contemporary artists he is attracted to the concepts of time, space, improvisation and the spiritual integrity of Eastern music and to the depth of emotion expressed in the music of people across the world who know the reality of suffering and who express simple faith in something better.

Geoff Howells grew up in Derby, where he was a chorister at the Cathedral, and went on to be Organ Scholar at York Minster under Dr Francis Jackson. After time spent as a cathedral assistant organist at St Albans Abbey and Sheffield Cathedral he moved into education and then became organist of Lancaster RC Cathedral. He is now based in South Wales where his time is divided between organ playing (with a strong emphasis on Bach and the North German composers, and on contemporary music) and on directing two early music ensembles and composing his own music. His cycle 'Poets Corner' will shortly receive its third performance and a new piece 'In His Temple' (settings of poems by George Herbert) received its first performance in June. This is Geoff's sixth recital at St Bride's - a much-loved venue for him.