Xewkija Parish celebrates inauguration of new pipe-organ

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Xewkija Parish celebrates inauguration of new pipe-organThe programme of events starts on Thursday, for the inauguration of the newly built pipe-organ installed by the parish of Xewkija.

Xewkija Parish said that the highlight of the programme, which will be held over three days, is a concert on the final evening by the renowned international organist from the UK, Mr David Davies.

Ms Pia Zammit, in the article below, explains the story behind this much-cherished instrument.

Pulling Out All the Stops

Ms Zammit said, “in the biggest church on the small island of Gozo, under the third largest unsupported dome in the world, lies a brand-new pipe organ waiting to be inaugurated.

The instrument’s home is the Xewkija Rotunda, and it was installed and blessed by His Excellency the Bishop of Gozo, Mons. Mario Grech, in November 2016.

The organ’s story however, started way back in 2012, when the electronic organ needed replacing. Noel Gallo, a Maltese internationally-renowned Organ Architect, custom designed a new pipe organ and commissioned Michael-Farley, Organ Builders in Devon, UK, to build it. (Noel Gallo’s designs can be found in Germany, the UK, Norway, Switzerland, Australia, South Korea, Malaysia, China and Malta).

`Pulled out all the stops,’ is an expression that aptly originates from the organ-playing world, and means ‘to do everything you can do to make something successful.’ It is a particularly appropriate phrase to use to describe The Rotunda’s mission to position the organ in the best possible location.

The positioning of a musical instrument, especially one as complex as an organ, is crucial. To ensure that the optimum sound is produced, both for the congregation and the organists themselves, many factors must be considered – and after numerous discussions, designs and calculations, it was decided that the organ be housed in the choir area behind the Altar.

Space is rather limited however, so the room and the corridor beneath were modified, and are now used to house ancillary equipment and provide easy access to all organ parts. And visitors are able to view the workings of the organ through a glass door.

The rather magnificent case is cherry-wood and finished with Danish oil, and the display pipes are of polished and lacquered zinc. To quote the designer, Noel Gallo, “Curves and circles are cleverly incorporated into all parts of the case to reflect the architecture of the building.”

Gallo added, “the symbolism of the casework incorporates the cross of St John in two circles depicting the construction of the new Church over the old Church – a Church within a Church; the grilles, pipes and lights all draw the eye upwards to view the painting of Christ.”

The sight of organ pipes can add beauty to a sacred space, in very much the same way that stained-glass windows can, and there is no shortage of pipes on display here at the Xewkija Rotunda. There are 1,204 in all, including 101 display pipes, 50 of which speak, as well as 25 tubular bells.

It is played from a detached three manual and pedal console that was specifically designed for this organ, and also it can be played from a mobile one manual console that was made with the intension to get non-professional players to use the organ.

The instrument is also equipped with a playback system that enables the organ to play automatically when the organist is not available.

This beautiful instrument will be inaugurated this week, and several events are lined up to celebrate this, culminating in a recital by a freelance international recitalist – David Davies.

David Davies, the former organist at the Exeter Cathedral, said that he is excited to be entrusted with the new organ’s debut, and kindly agreed to have a chat with us and tell us his thoughts and experiences.

I ask him if he has a favourite organ, and what his feelings are about debuting The Rotunda’s new instrument. “Every organ is unique,” he tells me. “There are examples of organs that are exact copies of one another, but each instrument has its own character and idiosyncrasy. I’ve been very lucky to play organs all over the world, and, sometimes, you come across an instrument where each of the elements for success all combine.One of my favourites is the organ in the Riverside Church, New York City, for sure.

Mr Davies added, “opening a new organ comes with a great deal of responsibility but one hopes to bring one’s skill and experience to an opening concert, together with a shared sense of the joy of such an occasion. One feels as though one is launching something new that will last for years and years, and that’s a hugely positive feeling.”

“Any new organs can be temperamental and part of one’s practice regime in getting to know the instrument is to make friends with it! Fortunately, the organ at Xewkija has had time to settle down before the opening concert. I think my only new worry with a new instrument is that we get along together!” he says with a smile.

David Davies has a connection to the Maltese Islands, and tells me that “Coming to Gozo is a real pleasure and privilege. I first came to Malta a few years ago because my sister has a home in Xemxija.”

He said, “it’s wonderful to see so many churches in Malta and Gozo well supported. I’m honoured to be sharing this momentous occasion at Xewkija with the members of the community, and to be making what I hope will be a very celebratory contribution!”

Written by Ms Pia Zammit.

Please feel free to join Xewkija Parish for the various events – tickets are not required and everyone is welcome.

Thursday 4th of May at 7.30pm: Rev. Ignatius Borg will give a talk on Sacred Music in the Liturgy.

Friday 5th of May at 7.00pm: Noel Gallo and Michael Farley will give an audio-visual presentation on the organ project.

Saturday 6th of May at 7.30pm: David Davies will give an organ recital in the presence of the President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca and the Bishop of Gozo Mgr Mario Grech.

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