NORTHERN IRELAND INTERNATIONAL ORGAN COMPETITION CELEBRATES 10 SPECIAL YEARS
The Northern Ireland International Organ Competition (NIIOC) will celebrate its tenth birthday this spring with gala recitals by all ten of its first prize winners in London (28 March, 7.30pm) and Belfast (6 April, 7.30pm), simultaneous lunchtime recitals in each of the six counties of Northern Ireland on 5 April (1.15pm), and the premiere of a new organ piece by Grace-Evangeline Mason.
Following prize performances in venues including Westminster Abbey, St. Thomas Fifth Avenue (New York) and Stockholm Cathedral, NIIOC’s first ten senior winners will unite in this anniversary year to perform joint Gala Recitals in Southwark and Belfast Cathedrals. They are: Ben Comeau, Ben Bloor, Richard Gowers, Andrew Forbes and Alexander Hamilton from the United Kingdom; Mona Rozdestvenskyte (Lithuania); Sebastian Heindl, Johannes Krahl and Laura Schlappa (Germany); and Ivan-Bogdan Reincke (Hungary).
Richard Gowers, senior prizewinner in 2013, will also give a solo lunchtime recital in Southwark Cathedral, London at 1.15pm on 28 March, which will include the premiere of a work by Grace-Evangeline Mason, specially composed for NIIOC and the Commission for Victims and Survivors for Northern Ireland. It is dedicated to all those touched by the Northern Ireland Troubles.
The Southwark Cathedral evening gala concert will be introduced by BBC Radio 3 presenter Sean Rafferty, a native of Northern Ireland, and the Belfast Cathedral evening gala concert will be introduced by Fr Eugene O’Hagan of the singing group The Priests.
In Northern Ireland, simultaneous lunchtime recitals by individual NIIOC prizewinners will be presented under the banner ‘Northern Ireland Resounds’ at 1.15pm on 5 April in the following venues:
Saint Peter’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Belfast
Down Cathedral, Downpatrick, Co Down
St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, Armagh, Co Armagh
St Michael’s Church, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh
First Presbyterian Church, Omagh, Co Tyrone
Christ Church, Londonderry, Co Londonderry
Ballywillan Presbyterian Church, Portrush, Co Antrim
These recitals, taking place in Belfast and in each of the six counties of Northern Ireland, will be dedicated to the memory of the organ builder David McElderry, former managing director of the Wells-Kennedy Parnership in Lisburn, Co. Antrim, who died in April 2021 and had lovingly maintained the instruments that will be used for the performances in Downpatrick, Armagh, Enniskillen, Omagh, Londonderry and Portrush.
All ten NIIOC senior competition prize-winning organists will take part in the evening gala concert at St Anne’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, Belfast on 6 April at 7.30pm.
The first nine NIIOC competitions took place annually from 2011 in Armagh, Northern Ireland, where the senior competition rounds took place in St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral. The 2020 event took place online, with competitors submitting videos of programmes recorded on instruments near their homes, a pioneering model for organ competitions during the pandemic.
Jurors have included distinguished players such as Thomas Trotter, Thierry Mechler, Kimberley Marshall, Martin Jean, Gerard Gillen and Catherine Ennis, together with David Hill, who is a competition patron and participates every year. Commenting on the development of the competition over its first decade, Dr Hill said: ‘NIIOC has gained an increasing respect internationally as a competition to launch the careers of young organists. I’m in awe of what has been achieved and by the level of playing we have listened to in the past ten years. What a fitting tribute to gather the illustrious prize winners as a way of celebrating ten outstanding competitions.’
The Dame Gillian Weir Medal, for an outstanding performance of one particular piece, has been presented for the last four years. NIIOC has been the official partner of the St. Albans International Organ Festival (IOF) since 2017. David Titterington, artistic and executive director of IOF, chaired the NIIOC jury in 2020 and described the standard of the finalists’ recorded performances as ‘simply jaw-dropping’. He said: ‘It is deeply satisfying to see how NIIOC over the past decade has grown in prestige and established itself internationally. From the evidence of the 2020 competition, the future of organ performance at the highest level is secure and there is much to celebrate.’
Richard Yarr, founder and chair of NIIOC, said: ‘We are very proud that NIIOC has been a proper trailblazer, changing the organ landscape locally and internationally. Competitors from Australia, the US, China and all across Europe have climbed the cobbled streets of the beautiful cathedral city of Armagh each August to perform in St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral. If you ask any of them, they’ll describe the experience as friendly, warm and transformative, and for many NIIOC has provided a network of colleagues for life.
‘We’re thrilled to be celebrating our first ten years with these very special concerts featuring ten young organists who are such great ambassadors for the king of instruments and for our competition. NIIOC takes pride of place on their CVs and I know these events will offer something for everyone. They will also provide great opportunities to thank those who have supported us on this exciting journey.’
The NIIOC anniversary celebrations are sponsored by: The Eric Thompson Charitable Trust; The Flax Trust; The Priests Charitable Trust; The Commission For Victims And Survivors For Northern Ireland; The Earl and Countess Castle Stewart; Mr Neil Shawcross; Mr David Scott; Harrison & Harrison Ltd; The London Organ Competition and Gormley’s Fine Art.
NIIOC 10TH ANNIVERSARY RECITAL
Belfast Cathedral, BT1 2HB
Wednesday 6 April 2022,
Gala Recital by all 10 Senior Prizewinners 7.30pm
Tickets cost £10 (students £5) and will be bookable through the competition website www.niioc.com from Monday 7 February
Tickets for the lunchtime recitals are free of charge.
More information can be found on the NIIOC website: www.niioc.com
Facebook / NorthernIrelandInternationalOrganCompetition
Twitter / @NIIOC1
Northern Ireland International Organ Competition First Prize Winners:
2011 Ben Comeau (United Kingdom)
Ben Comeau, NIIOC’s inaugural winner, is now a freelance organist, pianist and composer. His musical activities span five centuries of the classical canon alongside jazz, samba, cabaret and more. His compositions have been heard in the Wigmore and Royal Albert Halls, and he has been featured on BBC Radio 3’s ‘In Tune’.
2012 Ben Bloor (United Kingdom)
Ben Bloor is Organist of the London Oratory Church, School Organist at Westminster School, and a Junior Fellow at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. He enjoys a busy freelance recital career and has had success in several international organ competitions since his NIIOC 1st prize including Boston (2nd prize, 2018) and Montreal (2nd prize, 2021).
2013 Richard Gowers (United Kingdom)
Richard Gowers performs across the UK and internationally as a pianist, organist, continuo player and conductor. In addition to solo recitals, he has performed with choirs such as the BBC Singers, Helsinki Philharmonic Choir and Tenebrae. In 2018 he released a critically-acclaimed debut CD of Messiaen’s La Nativité du Seigneur, which was a Gramophone ‘Editor’s Choice’.
2014 Andrew Forbes (United Kingdom)
Andrew Forbes, Director of Music at Glasgow Cathedral, is an innovative Scottish organist with the ability to transform the organ into ‘the most sublime of musical conduits’ (The Scotsman). Recent solo performances include the Philharmonie de Paris, Šv Matu International Organ Festival (Lithuania) and St Paul’s Cathedral (London).
2015 Alexander Hamilton (United Kingdom)
Alexander Hamilton is Assistant Director of Music at Wells Cathedral. He has appeared as accompanist and as soloist on a number of recordings , including a recent album by Voces 8, and has conducted Bach’s B Minor Mass and Christmas Oratorio with his own ensemble, The Kilgour Consort. He will teach on the Oundle for Organists Summer School 2022.
2016 Mona Rozdestvenskyte (Lithuania)
Lithuanian organist Mona Rozdestvenskyte, born in Moscow, studied in Detmold with Professor Martin Sander and is a student in the organ soloist masterclass of Professor Martin Schmeding in Leipzig. She has successfully participated in numerous organ competitions and performed in recitals all across Europe. She works as church musician at the provost church of St. Johann in Bremen, Germany.
2017 Sebastian Heindl (Germany)
Sebastian Heindl received his fundamental musical education in Leipzig‘s famous St. Thomas Boys Choir and continued his studies at Leipzig conservatory. After earning numerous competition prizes he has developed a busy performing schedule that takes him frequently to precious historical instruments and illustrious concert venues such as the Philharmonie, Berlin.
2018 Johannes Krahl (Germany)
Johannes Krahl is widely considered to be one of Germany’s leading young organists.
He has won first prizes at the Bach competition in Wiesbaden, the Odoyevsky competition in Moscow and the Gottfried Silbermann competition in Freiberg. Johannes is currently studying Church Music at the Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy University of Music and Theatre in Leipzig.
2019 Ivan-Bogdan Reincke (Hungary)
Ivan-Bogdan Reincke is a versatile musician with roots in Hungary and Germany. He is a laureate of several competitions. After completing his organ studies in Budapest, he is now studying church music in Weimar. He also plays the violin and loves electronic and jazz music. Bogdan tries to approach organ music with a new eye of our modern world.
2020 Laura Schlappa (Germany)
Laura Schlappa studies with Professor Dr Martin Sander at the University of Music in Munich. She has won first prizes at the international organ competitions in Dudelange (2021), and London (2019) and the NIIOC intermediate competition (2018). She has attended organ masterclasses with Christophe Mantoux, Thierry Escaich, Olivier Latry, Ben van Oosten, Martin Ennis and Hans-Ola Ericsson, among others.