Thursday, April 2, 2009

Rebuilding the Auckland Town Hall Organ

Apart from the NZ Opera and the NZ Opera School the most exciting thing in my life in the last few years has been the refurbishment of the Auckland Town Hall Pipe Organ.

Being on the Trust (representing The Edge) has been a very interesting journey. The restoration of this magnificent instrument back to the grandeur that it had when Henry Brett (a former Mayor of Auckland) donated it to the city in 1911, and which was sadly decimated by following an unfortunate fashion of the 60’s, will provide the Auckland City and indeed New Zealand with a pipe organ of great world-wide significance.

The German firm from Bonn, Orgelbau Klais, the firm who won the $3.5million contract, removed, in January 2008, all that was left of the 1911 instrument and shipped it to Bonn for refurbishment. The pipe work that was installed in 1970 was also removed and sent to the South Island Organ Company’s factory for storage until it is decided what will happen to it. The South Island Organ Company is working with Klais on this project. Thus all but the fa├žade pipes and the huge 32ft Open Wood pipes on the back wall of the organ chamber were dismantled leaving the area for complete refurbishment to receive the wonderful new instrument.

In December 2008 three large containers arrived in Auckland with all the refurbished materials from the organ along with a range of the larger new pipe work that had been constructed in their factory in Bonn. Then on the 5th January 2009 a team of 11 German craftsmen (shown above, with His Worship the Mayor and yours truly in front of the Auckland Town Hall Organ) arrive from Bonn and they along with 2 from the South Island Organ Company and 1 from The Edge commenced the huge task of installing all the splendid work that had been constructed in the German factory. The Great Hall was a mass of timber, cases of pipes, swell, solo and choir boxes, wiring and all the ancillary detail that makes up this grand and intricate instrument.

Donald entertains the Klais crew during their rare free time.

During the next 6 weeks this fine team did an absolutely splendid job, working from 7am till 7pm daily to install the major structure, the refurbished pipes from the original instrument, the swell, solo and choir boxes, the hundreds on miles of wiring, the lovely new console, the walkways through the organ on three levels, the beautiful oak stair case inside the organ, the new larger pipes (there are still three more containers to arrive in August to make up the 5352 pipes that will comprise he completed organ), the new blower motors in the Town Hall basement and all the wind reservoirs. A huge and complex job completed with the utmost efficiency.

On my return from the Opera School on the 15th January I could not keep away from the Town Hall. This was history in the making and I simply lost count of the number of people I showed though the instrument. The staff were so accommodating and pleasant of my (and visitors) invasion of their space and I thank Thomas Von Heymann (foreman) and his staff for their gracious acceptance of this. Also I am very grateful to Leigh Redshaw of the Auckland City Council and Frank Woolf of The Edge for allowing me to do this.

His Worship the Mayor, John Banks, was so impressed with the work that he invited the whole team to morning tea and the following day was taken on a tour of the organ. More soon.