The reconstruction work on the organ in Monaco Cathedral is approaching its end and the instrument made its first public appearance on Saturday 5th March in Spa in Belgium, in the workshops of the organ builders Thomas (chosen following an international competition organised by the Office of Cultural Affairs for the reconstruction of the organ, which has been in service at the Cathedral since 1975).
By the end of the month, the new instrument will be dismantled and transported by lorry to the Principality (scheduled date of arrival: 28th March). It will be fully reassembled by mid-May: the long harmonisation process will then begin which will be completed for the National Holiday in November. The Principality will then boast an instrument of exceptional value, both from a musical and architectural point of view.
“Although the spirit of the old organ has been maintained – the new project having taken inspiration from French classical organs – the instrument is definitely contemporary”, explains Samuel Thomas, the architect/designer. The impressive front, in light wood, decorated with ten turrets, suspended between the ground and the sky, suggesting an ascending blast of air, will present the unusual feature of overhanging the nave. The specially created overhang allows the organ to emerge from its traditional space under the vault and give a sound dimension until now unheard.
Two thirds of the pipes from the old organ, made by Merklin, have been re-used thanks to their exceptional quality. “The instrument has kept its soul, but has changed its body” says Mr Jean-Charles Curau, Director of Cultural Affairs.
For this project, unique in Europe, Thomas the organ builders had to rise to a second challenge - to bring light to a dark area of the cathedral: in addition to its own staff, it brought in external specialists, including a Belgian engineer and light designer, Henriette Michaud. Therefore the front of the organ will feature fine sheets of Plexiglas which can be lit up in various ways: interpreting the sound colour of the instrument in a visual manner was one of the wishes of the Director of the organ builders, Mr Dominique Thomas.
Weighing 20 tons in total (the metal structure that supports it weighs 7 tons alone), the organ will boast 4 keyboards, 79 stops and just under 7,000 pipes. The finest materials were used in its production: oak for the front, cedar, leather nuts for the mechanics, maple for the console and Vosges fir for the bellows.
The organ blessing ceremony will take place in the presence of His Grace Barsi, archbishop of Monaco, on 8th December 2011, the date on which the events to mark the Centenary of the consecration of Monaco Cathedral come to a close and the day of the Immaculate Conception.