York Minster is undertaking a monumental, once-in-a-century restoration of its prized Grand Organ. The immense instrument, parts of which date to 1834, comprises of 5 403 pipes with some as long as ten metres, and some as small as a pencil. It is the first renovation of its scale since 1903 and has a £2 million budget, made possible by a £1 million private donation. Nearly all of its pipes will be taken to organ specialists Harrison and Harrison in Durham for both repair and refurbishment. The project is expected to be completed by the summer of 2020.
This month, a team of eight specialists from the Durham firm have been working to dismantle the Grand Organ. The instrument is one of the largest in the country, weighing approximately 20 000 kilograms. Due to their regular use, organs require small scale cleaning every fifteen to twenty years; larger repairs every thirty to thirty-five years; and major refurbishment like this every century.
Once the Grand Organ is dismantled and the pipes are transported to Harrison and Harrison in Durham, they will be cleaned and restored. The mechanism of the organ will be replaced, and minor changes will be made to improve the release of sound once the organ is relocated back to its place and how it looks. The aim is to restore it to the condition it was in during the 1960s.
The grandeur of the instrument makes it a popular attraction for musicologists, tourists, and those of faith alike. For the duration of the refurbishment, the Minster will host an electronic organ and will make use of a concert grand piano. Visitors will also be able to witness the work as it occurs inside the building during the dismantling and the reassembly.
Robert Sharpe, Director of Music at York Minster, commented on the Grand Organ’s refurbishment: “The organ plays a key part in the Minster’s services, providing the heartbeat at the centre of daily worship within the church. This once-in-a-century refurbishment will ensure the instrument’s reliability for the next 100 years.”
The specialists required to complete this massive project are in short supply across the country. The York Minster Grand Organ had to wait behind the organs of Peterborough and Canterbury for the musical craftsmen to be available for the project. The organ of Salisbury Cathedral is set to follow after work on the Grand Organ at York Minster is complete.