It’s great news that Thomas Trotter has won the 2020 Queen’s Medal for Music, the first organist to do so. The organ-playing community do so much to keep music happening around the country, and over the years, many of them have been recognised at the highest international level. A wonderful video released this week by the Cathedral Music Trust (54 Cathedral organists playing Bach’s D Minor Toccata and Fugue compositely) reminds us what a virtuosic profession this is – though often unsung.
It’s been my impression that refined musical circles sometimes harbour snobbery against organ music – perhaps they think it’s too loud and bulky, or something – but contrariwise, healthily-sized audiences around the country attend organ recitals with great curiosity about the instrument. No-one can have cultivated a more ardent city-full of organ fans more than Thomas himself in Birmingham where, as City Organist, he gives regular concerts in the Town Hall (where it’s said Mendelssohn advised about the original organ build) or Symphony Hall, which has a newish (Klais, 2001) instrument.
Tickets for these regular Monday lunchtime recitals used to be free but are still minimally priced, and an amazing array of people turn up habitually, many of whom would not otherwise attend a classical concert. Most I imagine would not actively seek out world premieres, but when played by Thomas, they’re willing to give it a go. After thirty-seven years as City Organist, Thomas still gives around twenty Birmingham recitals in a season, and his last one before lockdown closed everything in the spring was his 800th in the series. As an example of civic engagement by a performing musician, this has few rivals.