23 Jan 2019

Internationally acclaimed organist Martin Setchell says it was an emotional moment when he got to play the Christchurch Town Hall’s organ for the first time in eight years.

“It was very emotional – it was hard not to have a tear,’’ admits Mr Setchell. “I’ve missed the organ so much – it’s been like having a part of me removed.’’

Mr Setchell has been organ curator at the Town Hall since famed Austrian organ builders, Rieger, installed the organ in the Douglas Lilburn Auditorium in 1997.

The organ cost $1.2 million and most of the money for it came from public donations.

It is the only one of its kind in New Zealand and Mr Setchell says there are few organs in the world that can rival its sound.

“It is very special – it has the kind of sound that comes and grabs you. It makes you sit up and take notice.’’

Representatives from Rieger were in the Town Hall completing a five-week project to add 12 new ranks of pipes to the organ and to upgrade its electronic memory when the magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck on 22 February 2011.

The organ suffered only minor damage in the quake but because of the damage to the Town Hall it has sat unplayed for the past eight years.

However, with the three-year restoration of the Town Hall nearing completion, the organ will soon be filing the Auditorium with music again.

A team of four from Rieger have carried out structural repairs on the organ and now Rieger's  senior voicer and tuner, Gerhard Pohl, and his assistant, Franz Roth, are tuning and re-voicing the organ’s 4307 pipes one by one.

“It is sounding glorious,’’ says Mr Setchell, who has been helping with the task. “I’m the happiest man in town at the moment.’’

Christchurch residents will get a chance to hear the upgraded organ during two free concerts which Mr Setchell will perform on Wednesday, 6 March.

The first concert will be 1.10pm and the other at 6pm. A piece called Celebration, which has been specially written for the occasion by popular Norwegian composer Mons Leidvin Takle, will be performed during the concerts.

The Christchurch Town Hall will re-open at the end of February.