Conserving a Masterpiece: The Great Organ
The Cathedral is known for great music, ranging from choral performances to classical and contemporary orchestral works. Among the best-loved and most impressive instruments heard in this resonant space is the largest of the six organs found on the campus. The Great Organ was built by the Ernest M. Skinner Company in 1910 as Op. 150, and rebuilt and enlarged by G. Donald Harrison of Aeolian-Skinner in 1954 as Op. 150-A. Yet this acclaimed national treasure, widely considered to be the masterpiece of American pipe organ building, has been silent for nearly three years. Beginning in late January 2022, work will begin on the long-awaited process of cleaning and conservation needed to restore the Great Organ's voice.
On Palm Sunday 2019, a fire in the Cathedral's Crypt filled the building with smoke. In the immediate aftermath, workers cleaned everything in the Cathedral below ten feet. We detailed the lengthy restoration process in the online pages of this blog, where we described the monumental effort on the part of artisans and dedicated staff to remove all vestiges of smoke and particulates from the Cathedral's granite and marble surfaces.
After that 2019 fire, the Great Organ, a delicate instrument for all its size and might, still requires disassembly, assessment, and thorough cleaning before it can again be played at services and concerts. The Great Organ must be carefully inspected and each pipe removed, laid out, and cleaned before returning to their rightful ranks. While the conservation process is a painstaking one, the Cathedral has both the benefit of past experience and the assistance of some of the foremost experts in organ construction and repair working on this delicate project.
Quimby Pipe Organs, based in Warrensburgh, Missouri, restored the Great Organ following the fire in 2001 and will once again be the Cathedral's partners for the current deinstallation and cleaning, along with Douglass Hunt, Organ Curator of the Cathedral. Quimby’s documentation of the earlier restoration can be seen here. Work on the organ will begin at the end of January, and is anticipated to continue for the remainder of this year.
Now, we invite you to follow the progress of the restoration as it unfolds in the coming weeks. We'll post images from the deinstallation and answer some of your questions about the construction and conservation of this magnificent instrument. (We also thank you in advance for your patience and understanding as the process impacts visitor access in the Cathedral.)
Follow us on this blog and on the Cathedral's social media for more behind-the-scenes photos and info!