SEE US IN A NEW LIGHT
A Hidden Gem in Jesmond
Kris Thomsett, Assistant Director of Music, writes:
Last year, a long time before ‘pandemic’ and ‘unprecedented times’ became rather common terms of phrase, the Organ Recital Series at the Cathedral already faced another huge problem, the rebuilding of our Nave. Whilst this work is necessary to ensure that others long after us continue to be inspired by our beautiful building, it meant that for a year and a half, the Cathedral organ (or Bertha, as she’s affectionately called) would be out of action, at least as far as recitals were concerned.
This meant that we had to find a new place to host us, and following a few emails and phone calls, Jesmond URC kindly offered to take on this project. To me, this killed two birds with one stone. Firstly, we had a place to offer to our recitalists, but secondly, it meant that the URC organ was finally getting the attention it deserved. I have often referred to the organ of Jesmond URC as a hidden gem. Not many organists in Newcastle at the time really knew much about the instrument, and yet all those who have heard it have rated the instrument very highly.
The instrument itself takes up the entire front wall of the church, speaking directly into the very open church, and fits the building extremely well both musically and aesthetically, the painted pipes being rather understated, but still beautiful. A polar opposite to the Cathedral organ which is incredibly large with some rather questionable work undertaken in the 1980s, the organ of Jesmond URC is small and perfectly formed, with every stop being important to the character of the instrument.
As was the case with almost all live music, the URC and Cathedral had to place the organ recital series on hold from March, and it was only this month we have been able to make some kind of return. The organ recital series has been reimagined and rather than offering a recital we are offering meditations. This means that there is no applause and the meditation is introduced with a prayer. As Ian Roberts has said at these meditations, much of the music written for the organ has church (and more specifically liturgical) origins.
For the month of October, I decided to theme the programme each week, offering music from different times and places. These included Meditations from Early England, Baroque Meditations, Meditations from France and Meditations from England. As programmes are not offered in print on the day, I have taken the opportunity to speak to the audience throughout the meditation.
It’s hard to put into writing how grateful I am to Jesmond URC and all those involved in being able to make these recitals happen again. As with almost every activity at the moment, the ability for these recitals to go ahead is reliant on seemingly endless risk assessments, and many of those were in the hands of the URC. The speed at which the URC sorted out ‘track and trace’, QR codes and socially distanced seating was incredible.
In a time of so much unrest and uncertainty, these meditations offer a short time of reflection and an escape from these ‘unprecedented times.’ If you are reading this, and you have not yet been to Jesmond URC, I encourage you to go! Not only does this place boast a wonderful instrument and stunning architecture, the people of the church are all extremely wonderful and would welcome anybody in to once again enjoy real music without a laptop, microphone or ‘zoom’ call in sight!