Concert to celebrate magic of pipe organ

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 October, 2009, 12:00am

It has been called the king of musical instruments - but to organist and music instructor Chiu Siu-ling the pipe organ is the 'pearl' of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre.

The hand-made organ, built by famed Austrian manufacturer Rieger Orgelbau, has attracted many of the world's renowned performers to Hong Kong over the past 20 years.

To celebrate the Cultural Centre's 20th anniversary, 40 of Chiu's students will give two free organ recitals tomorrow.

Chiu has been an instructor on the Cultural Centre's 'King of the Instruments' Organ Education Series since 1999. The programme provides training in the basic theoretical and practical skills needed to play the instrument.

The organ - installed at a cost of HK$10 million when the Cultural Centre was built in 1989 - has four manuals (keyboards), 93 stops (which allow for selection of timbre) and 8,000 pipes. It is one of the largest mechanical tracker-action organs in Southeast Asia.

With large pipes extending both vertically and horizontally, the pipe organ is visually magnificent. But what made Mozart name it the 'king of the instruments' is not so much the way it looks. Rather, it is the array of timbre and volume it can produce. It is almost as rich as that of a full-size symphony orchestra despite the fact that the organist is the only person responsible for the sound. The repertoire of pipe organs is equally wide, with pieces written centuries before the piano came into existence.

Every year, about 16 students take part in the Organ Education Series. To qualify for the programme, they must have passed Grade 8 of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) - the top-level piano exam. Competition is fierce, with more than 200 applications for the most recent programme. According to Chiu, it is rare for a publicly funded body to put such great effort into promoting a pipe organ.

One success story is Simon Chan Sheung-chi, a graduate of the programme in 2000, who went on to obtain a diploma in organ performance. Chan is now a tutor for the Cultural Centre programme.

A total of 1,600 free tickets for the concerts, at 2pm and 8pm, are available from the Cultural Centre's inquiry counter from 9am to 9pm on a first come, first served basis.