Inside the workshop restoring our one-of-a-kind concert hall organ
Built and installed by Harrison & Harrison in 1956, our Grade II listed pipe organ is one of the finest examples of concert hall organs, having delighted audience members and musicians from around the world for over half a century.
Each organ is unique – and ours is considered one of the best and most successful Harrison & Harrison models. Notably, it is also one of very few operational concert hall organs to exist at this size.
In June 2018, Harrison & Harrison carefully removed every pipe, tube, bellow and windchest from behind the decorative screen, catalogued each item and transported the entire instrument back to Durham where it has undergone a meticulous cleaning and restoration process. Their organ engineers are now on site reinstalling the organ into the transformed Beacon Hall space.
Looking ahead, the organ is set to be voiced later on in 2024 – a process where the sound of the pipes are adjusted to accommodate the new space and its world-leading acoustic capabilities as part of our transformation, with its first concert likely to take place in 2025.
About the restoration project
- When the organ was built in 1956 the instrument didn’t operate quite as the consultants intended, as modern adaptations to the concert hall building such as the lighting rig affected the sound and the way it was played. The restoration project will unlock the organ and improve the acoustics in the Beacon Hall space, creating a lighter and brighter sound.
- Harrison & Harrison had to scrape layers of nicotine off the parts and have replaced all the felt and leather.
- There are several thousand moving parts, for example, 1,000 pneumatic motors made by hand which they have replaced with new leather. The stops only had about 10 or 15 years of life and had been in the organ since it was installed.
- The console has been rebuilt with new material because it was badly damaged but all the interiors are original. The console is beautiful but has an impractical mechanism. Now it has a wheeled frame so it can be moved more easily.
- Harrison & Harrison have been conservative in their restoration work so it can be adapted in the future.
Did you know? 5 facts about our organ
- Our Harrison & Harrison organ is one of the largest concert hall organs of its kind – spanning 14 feet from the stage to the floor.
- The consoles include four sets of keyboards and a smaller, fifth console for the feet, with each keyboard controlling a different section of the organ.
- Organs were originally built for civic rather than religious purposes; to replace the orchestra and entertain people without regular access to orchestral music – each organ section imitates a different instrument e.g. flutes, oboes, French horn and trumpets.
- The largest organ pipe is 10 metres long and 2.5ft across.
- There are 20 reservoirs in the wind system which are the lungs of the organ. They rise and fall and regulate the pressure of wind going to different pipes.