David Briggs

Concert Organist and Composer

Concert Reviews and Comments

Here are some comments and reviews about David's concerts...

David Briggs is among the most important British exponents of the art of improvisation to have lived, his legendary skill not only delighting audiences the world over but inspiring the rising generation of organists to pursue the art seriously. The ability to sustain improvisation for anything up to two hours for a film accompaniment is something else again. In fact, live musical accompaniment was the norm in the early days of cinema, and the tradition never died out completely, but David Briggs is unique in the extent to which he has made a go of it in our times. Thanks to him, events such as tonight’s have become very popular, not least because they are something a bit different, and also because they are definitely not just for organ aficionados. David’s film repertoire is large and growing -- he has played accompaniment to dozens of films including Lang’s Metropolis, Hitchcock’s The Lodger and shorts by Chaplain and Keaton. For all this, he also remains a repertoire recitalist of the front rank and a highly prolific composer.

Thank you so much for most enthralling evening last night! Quite how you manage to discover and display such a huge range of tonal colours on a new organ, which you have only played for less than an hour, is quite breathtaking - and that’s to say nothing of the vivid imagination and creativity of your improvisation! You had the audience eating out of your hand, and everyone was absolutely in awe of what they experienced last night. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Thank you for an extraordinary evening that everyone will always remember. I'm sure I speak for the entire audience when I say that your artistry and facility at the organ are nothing short of genius. And, as far as entertainment goes, your marathon-followed-by-a-sprint-to-the-finish was breath-taking and thrilling all the way. Yes, please do plan on coming back.

I have never heard a more thrilling performance and you may quote me to the ends of the earth (and beyond).

How can you fit one of the largest symphonies (with full chorus) into one of the smallest cathedrals? Simply dispense with the orchestra – David Briggs is world-famous for his organ transcriptions – his brilliant programme essay fully justifies them as genuine re-creations.

Mahler 2 is a real challenge, with orchestra including harps, gongs, bells and even a bunch of twigs (honestly) and the full score expands to 32 staves in places (it gives me a headache just to look at it). But I needn't have worried; from the arresting opening, and for the next hour before the chorus entered (probably the longest wait in any major work) we were taken on a truly amazing journey – David knows this organ so well, not only utilising all the characteristic strengths of the Willis – convincing strings, imitative winds, burnished brass – but using his amazing technique to create instrumental sounds that should be impossible; the console cameras covering his every move also prove that it's possible to play all four manuals simultaneously – not to mention the unique divided pedal; it was definitely just him and not some magical musical millipede. There are too many wonderful details for a single review, but I loved the stampede down several octaves at the end of the first movement, the Viennese elegance of the pizzicato section of the second movement, the demonic scherzo with the snarling pedals, shrieking clarinet, roaring horns and trumpets – a nightmare carousel ride culminating in a terrifying thunderbolt which shook the building. The fourth movement brought the total contrast of Sarah Pring's rich mezzo tones, leading to the apocalyptic finale – 'offstage' trumpets, birdsong over distant horncalls, and after sitting patiently for so long, the chorus made a superb entry, six-part unaccompanied, with solo soprano soaring above, and in ecstatic duet with the mezzo.

Then a massive prolonged crescendo – who but Three Spires could sustain triple forte and not be drowned out by David Briggs' one-man-orchestra? If there is a musical equivalent of an epic Wimbledon final, this was it, a pulse-racing, life-enhancing experience which will long be remembered by those who were there.

Review by Judith Whitehouse - The West Briton, UK

Opening Organ Concert - St John's School, Leatherhead, UK

Letter from Simon Bland, Organist of St John's School:

The pleasure was all ours. You were utterly magnificent, the recital a triumph. I am so grateful to you for everything you did to make the evening quite perfect. You judged the mood and the crowd brilliantly - there is simply no other person who could have done what you did. I am so keen for the organ to be at the heart of life here, and am on a mini mission to enhance its appeal generally, and you managed to do all of the above (and more!) in the space of a couple of hours. And your playing was, of course, sumptuous and glorious in equal measure. I am really glad you like the organ - we are certainly very lucky - and I have been thrilled by the way the project has caught the popular imagination here

Hope to see you v soon. Cannot wait to see how your project progresses in Toronto - and would be thrilled if there was ever the chance of another improv lesson at some point in the future.

Thank you so much again. It was a very moving evening and you were quite magnificent. We are indebted to you.

from Martin Collier, Headmaster, St John's School

Thank you for coming to St John’s on Friday evening. We have been inundated with positive comments from members of the audience. He are just two examples:
 
From a Governor of the School: ‘Thank you also for Friday evening’s recital. David Briggs was absolutely brilliant and I think this was the most amazing evening I have ever spent at St John’s’.
 
From the parent of a pupil who is coming to the school next year: ‘[My son] beamed the whole concert and he said himself that it was the best thing he had ever been to even better than Yo Yo Ma's Bach suites! Praise indeed’.
 
We were deeply honoured that you agreed to perform at St John’s. We are so very grateful to you for such a wonderful evening.
 

from Charles Snider, Director of Music at St Mark's Church, Glen Elynn, Chicago, IL, USA

David,

Bravo!  I am so very pleased that you were able to be with us for this important occasion, and I know everyone at St. Mark's shares in my delight in having you play so brilliantly for us.  It was a wonderful program, so beautifully played, and your commentary was very much enjoyed by everyone.  I'm so glad we managed to make the projection screen aspect work, and it will certainly be a positive addition for other concerts yet to come.

I hope you found the hotel and other accommodations to be satisfactory.  I am so sorry that school obligations left me little time to spend with you, but you've more than won over Ginnie and Marsha who are both talking far too seriously about relocating to Canada.  A member of my choir, Dr. Karl Sandin, wanted me to tell you how very much he appreciated the kindness and attention which you paid to his mother.  She rarely is able to visit the church but she wanted to hear you play.  Karl wanted you to know how much it meant to him to have you spend that time talking with her.

When you have the time, I would be grateful if your cared to offer a one or two sentence comment about the organ.  We've included several of those from previous performers on our website and I'd like to continue that with our current group of performers.

Thank you again for participating in our series.  It was wonderful to meet you, and I am deeply grateful for all you did to contribute to the success of the evening.  I hope our paths will cross again soon.

With all best wishes,
Charles

from Simon Williams, Director, RCO Academy, Lifelong learning from the Royal College of Organists, Organist at St George’s, Hanover Square, London.

Dear David,

My thanks to you for a truly remarkable evening at St George's on Saturday. Everyone there enjoyed the occasion enormously. Your playing, whilst of staggering virtuosity and inventiveness, matched the film perfectly with just the right amount of humour for a modern day audience looking at silent film from yesteryear without detracting from the original intent of the film itself. 

I'm glad you found the Richards & Fowkes organ inspiring - we certainly love it at St George's.

With best wishes,

Simon

 

‘Lapse’ by organist sheds light on skill

By Eric E. Harrison

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

LITTLE ROCK — Need proof that David Briggs is a good organist?

Briggs, who was giving a concert Friday night at Little Rock’s St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, was so floored by the presence of some folks in the front pew from Forrest City who know his wife, who hails from that east Arkansas burg, that he forgot the opening of the J.S. Bach fugue he was supposed to be playing and improvised the first two minutes in the composer’s style.

That’s how good Briggs is.

That and the rest of the Bach Prelude and Fugue in G major, BWV 541, was so impressive that it wrung a spontaneous “bravo” from somebody in a sanctuary full of organists.

Briggs, artist-in-residence at St. James Cathedral in Toronto and organist emeritus at Britain’s Gloucester Cathedral, was the guest of the Central Arkansas Chapter, American Guild of Organists, and of organist and guild member Dr. Richard Hixson, who puts on one of these concerts every January for his birthday.

Interspersing music with occasionally hilarious commentary, Briggs was at least equally impressive in three very Viennese miniature “palate cleansers” Franz Joseph Haydn wrote for the musical clock of his employer, Prince Esterhazy; Franz Liszt’s monumental Prelude and Fugue on B-A-C-H; and a couple of transcriptions, his own version of the “Waltz of the Flowers” from The Nutcracker by Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky and “Nimrod” from Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations, in which he nicely captured the gravitas that makes this tune a suitable and familiar one for memorial services.

Half the fun of an organ recital is watching the player open and close stops (sometimes with his feet) and flip keys, changing tone and volume, and Briggs certainly didn’t disappoint.

For the finale, after a lesson on the art of improvisation and a little head scratching, Briggs created a 20-minuteplus mash-up derived from a pair of themes Hixson submitted (complete with sheet music), in which he made pretty much all you can make out of “Starting Here, Starting Now” from the musical Gypsy and the “Root-te-toot” nursery song.

Review in the Napier Gazette, August 2015

David Briggs lived up to his reputation as one of the world's greatest organists with a stunning display of virtuosity.

Briggs is an artist of immense international stature for improvising on submitted themes.

Organ improvisations with artists of this calibre are feats which are unequalled in the world of music. The performer is required to be thinking ahead, at top speed, in terms of its theme and development, transmitting this to fingers and feet while simultaneously selecting organ stops to match the music.

The programme for this concert included and improvisation on a theme to be submitted in a sealed envelope. When Briggs opened the envelope, it contained a theme from the well-known opera (sic) Star-Wars. With hardly a pause after playing the theme, he developed it into an improvisation that was simply awesome in complexity and a display of virtuosity of the highest level.

In his often hilarious commentary, Briggs commented that he had included two items in the programme he was particularly fond of - Bach's majestic Toccata in F, which he opened with, and the French Romantic piece Choral No.3 in a minor by Cesar Franck.

He then demonstrated the wide variety of voices available the Waiapu organ can deliver, playing Three Pieces for Musical Clocks by Haydn and Dupre's Fileuse (Suite Bretonne).

The programme ranged widely and included two contrasting transcriptions from the Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky, as well as Briggs' own arrangement of the Adagietto from Gustav Mahler's Fifth Symphony.

The virtuosity demanded by Ravel's La Valse with its gymnastics of repeated double pedalling prepared the audience for the final item: improvisation on themes from Star Wars, crowning an impeccable concert.

The audience rose spontaneously in a standing ovation.

For an encore, Briggs played on of Elgar's Enigma Variations.

The rebuilt pipe organ in the cathedral is continuing to attract the world's best performers.

 

 

From Benjamin Nicholas, Director of Music at Merton College, Oxford:

"Thank you so much for your sensational concert on Saturday. I had no idea that the Mahler would work so well on the organ – although I think only YOU could make it work so well!"

(Ben Nicholas, after Merton College Mahler 2 Concert, 16th May 2015)

 

From Peter Gunstone, Oxford:

"It has been a long time since I went to a concert and came away so moved, challenged, and inspired. The collaboration of Gustav Mahler, David Briggs and the Merton Dobson organ leaves me struggling for words to do justice to the experience.

David played his own transcription of Mahler 2 - faithful in intention to the composer's score, and yet so alive, so organic on the truly wonderful Merton Dobson. This organ is not only a staggeringly beautiful visual piece of artwork, but the musical ensemble lives and breathes rather like a steam engine. The rotation of the Cymbelstern at climatic moments brought about both delight, and a sense of being swept up into heavenly realms.

I was particularly struck by the abundance of *vision* and graft that brought about not just the beautiful surroundings of Merton's chapel, but also the vision that brought about this new immense musical instrument, not to mention David's vision for the transcription. The combination was potent, and left me challenged concerning my expectations of the effect of musical performance. It is so easy to settle for something good, rather than something that is profound, speaking from deep to deep.

So I come away feeling inspired to lift my eyes from the hum drum and to set my sights on something greater, something beyond what is within reasonable reach."
(Peter Gunstone, Oxford)
 

from Dr Michael Velting, Organist and Choirmaster, Christchurch Cathedral, Nashville, Tennessee (13th March, 2016)

"It was absolutely incredible...."

"The pleasure was mine and ours having you here this weekend. I've been wanting to have you here for a long time and I'm so happy that it all worked out. You played magnificently!! I'm so pleased that you and the organ seemed at one and that you enjoyed it. That makes me very happy. I, of course, was intrigued watching your console technique, but, as we talked about the other day, sometimes I just closed my eyes to hear you without watching....and I do find I listen differently. In any case, I enjoyed both immensely...eyes open and closed."

from Dr Peter Holmes, Senior Pastor, Yorkminster Park Baptist Church, Toronto (21st March, 2016)

“If I am doing a good job you shouldn’t even notice the organ after about 15 minutes,” said David Briggs as he introduced Cecil B. DeMille’s 1927 silent film, King Of Kings, which he was about to accompany with 112 minutes of brilliant improvisation on Yorkminster Park’s Casavant organ. (and all that after having already played a few services that same day at St. James’ Cathedral).
Some came for the pure devotional value of the event on the first day of Holy Week, while others came to experience a silent movie for the first time, and still others to hang on the brilliance of one of the world’s great organists. Yet, almost everyone left having been deeply moved. Comments at the door from some who said they were speechless and emails from others expressing profound appreciation voiced the widespread appreciation, as did the lengthy standing ovation, and the long line of those wanting to purchase various recordings of David Briggs playing the world’s great organs.
As moving as the film and the performance truly were, it was his introductory remark that if he was doing his job well we wouldn’t notice the organ, that I can’t stop thinking about. This is great thinking to embrace as we enter Holy Week. David Briggs’ approach brought to mind the words of John the Baptist who said, “I must decrease and Christ must increase,” (John 3:30). Briggs’ words also had me singing the closing verse of the wonderful hymn, May the Mind of Christ My Saviour,
May his beauty rest upon me
As I seek the lost to win,
And may they forget the channel,
Seeing only Him.
Thank you David Briggs, for offering something truly beautiful on the king of instruments, to strengthen our love and devotion for the King of Kings.