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Christopher Herrick (Organ, Harpsichord)

Born: May 23, 1942 - Bletchley, Buckinghamshire, England

The English organist and harpsichordist, Christopher Herrick, was a boy chorister at St. Paul's Cathedral and attended its choir school; he sang at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 and later that year went with the choir on a three-month tour of America which included a private concert in the White House and a meeting with President Eisenhower. At the age of 12, he was inspired to learn the organ after Sir John Dykes Bower, organist of St Paul's, asked him to accompany him to the cathedral organ loft to turn pages for him for a BBC recording. His response to Herrick's aspiration to become a concert organist was not encouraging: 'Well... I suppose it might be just possible to be an organist giving concerts, with no permanent church appointment - but even Thalben-Ball has a city church.' He later attended Cranleigh School, where he was able to continue his organ study.

From 1959 to 1962, Christopher Herrick held an organ scholarship at Exeter College, Oxford, where he studied music. Following this, he obtained a Boult scholarship to study at the Royal College of Music. His interests expanded to the harpsichord. 'The harpsichord had also fascinated me, and Millicent Silver became my professor [...] From a historical point of view, of course, everything about her approach was wrong. But the experience of working with her gave me a vivid taste of an unknown world.' He studied organ privately with Geraint Jones at the time he was discovering the German mechanical instruments with straight pedal boards. He studied conducting with Sir Adrian Boult. By his early twenties he was already virtuoso organist of the highest caliber.

Malcolm Russell, one of London's principal suppliers of harpsichords, was an early neighbour, and Christopher Herrick was able to acquire a Dulcken harpsichord on permanent loan. This led to the formation of the Taskin trio (violin, viola da gamba, harpsichord), playing baroque music on period instruments. He has performed Bach's complete Well-Tempered Clavier on the harpsichord at London's South Bank.

Christopher Herrick was assistant organist at St Paul’s Cathedral from 1967 to 1974. He became an organist at Westminster Abbey in 1974, and was sub-organist from 1979 to 1984, playing at Royal and State occasions and giving over 200 solo recitals there in that time. In 1984 he embarked upon a solo career as a concert organist and found immediate rewards. The same year he gave the solo organ concert in the centenary season of the Proms. His first recording, Organ Fireworks, Vol. 1, was released on Hyperion Records that year and achieved critical and financial success. He has toured worldwide, appearing in concerts and recitals to enthusiastic audiences and critical acclaim.

“My life has been dedicated to playing this curious keyboard giant, of which no two are the same. And no two acoustics are the same. As a regular concert organist, you must accept that your life will not be like a pianist touring with or ordering the Steinway of your choice. If you can't cope with being versatile, you miss what the organ is about: in its physical nature (in the buildings and design), in its construction (from trackers to electro-pneumatics and back again), in its repertory. [...] It's the easiest of all to produce sound, and a lot of it. But it's also the most difficult to bring to life, to make it rhythmical and melodic: to make it sing and breathe." Christopher Herrick

From 1989 to 1999 Christopher Herrick recorded the complete organ works of J.S. Bach on Metzler organs in Switzerland for Britain's finest classical recording company Hyperion Records. It was a gradual undertaking:

“I was asked by Hyperion to record Bach's trio sonatas, and the company's director, Ted Perry, even wrote to me saying, "No complete Bach, Christopher." He didn't want it. The Bach idea crept up on him, as it did on us, and finally he said, "The world needs this, Christopher." Christopher Herrick

Critics generally found his work enlightening and original. 'Herrick has been presenting a different instrument from this fine builder in each of his Bach recordings and every one is a revelation,' says the BBC Music Magazine's Top 1000 CD's Guide. The Good CD Guide in turn describes his playing as 'scholarly, erudite, infinitely rewarding and so easily communicative one is barely aware one is absorbing some of the most complex and intellectually demanding ideas.' These discs, originally issued separately, are now also available as a 16-CD box set. Gramophone review of this set says: 'The freshness and simple joie de vivre that Herrick brings to all Bach's music makes this cycle a winner. Christopher Herrick and the Hyperion team deserve the warmest praise for devoting the past decade to a Bach cycle that has provided such scintillating and compelling listening.'

In July 1998, following the success of his Complete Bach recordings, Christopher Herrick was invited to perform Bach's complete organ works at the Lincoln Center Festival in New York. He played fourteen concerts on fourteen consecutive days on the Kuhn organ in Alice Tully Hall. A critic from The New York Times wrote: 'Mr Herrick was at the peak of his considerable form, combining precision with panache, interpretive freedom with sheer joy in virtuosity. The playing was, in a word, triumphant.'

In 1984 Christopher Herrick met Ted Perry, the owner-director of Hyperion records and proposed an album of virtuosic repertoire, on the Harrison & Harrison organ of Westminster Abbey. This has led to the Organ Fireworks series, virtuosic and spectacular music, well-known and rare, recorded on great organs all over the world, which is on its 12th volume. This series, an evidence of Herrick's versatility, wide-ranged repertory and virtuosity, includes a range of colorful works by a veritable hodgepodge of composers that includes Camille Saint-Saëns, Jolivet, Dmitri Shostakovich, Widor, Mozart, Nielsen, Edward Elgar, Johann Pachelbel, Franz Liszt, John Rutter, and countless others. The Organ Fireworks albums continue to fascinate organ lovers and critics with their 'varied mix of familiar and unfamiliar repertoire'. The Gramophone continues 'the strengths of this hugely enjoyable and downright spectacular series lie in consistently first-rate recordings of some of the world's most aurally stunning instruments, and Herrick's playing, which can only be described as unfailingly brilliant.' A contrasting series called Organ Dreams, of more tranquil repertoire, has reached its 4th volume.

Other recordings include Louis-Claude Daquin's Noëls on the restored 1739 Parizot organ in St Rémy, Dieppe. The year 2003 saw the fruition of a special Herrick/Hyperion project to record the keyboard works of Holland's greatest composer, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck on a copy of the 17th-century organ of Stockholm's German church, now in Norrfjärden in northern Sweden.. He utilised historically informed performance practice, including original fingerings, not using the thumb very much, which caused some difficulties: "only when I went in for physical therapy did I finally adapt." He has also recorded Josef Rheinberger's suites for organ, violin and cello. In 2007, he commenced work on a five year project to record the complete organ works of Dietrich Buxtehude.

Recent highlights in his perorming career include the New York complete Bach 14-day marathon, his own 'Organ Prom' in the BBC Henry Wood Promenade Concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in London, giving the opening concert at the Stockholm International Organ Festival, giving three inaugurconcerts on the Rieger organ in Christchurch Town Hall, New Zealand, and dedicating numerous organs in North America, including the Létourneau organ in Canada at Edmonton's new Winspear Centre Concert Hall, where he later recorded Organ Fireworks X, He returned in New Year 2004 playing two Organ Concertos with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra to launch the new Fireworks CD.

2005 and 2006 have been busy years with tours in USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, France and the Czech Republic. Organ Dreams 4, recorded on the beautiful new Dutch-built, French Romantic organ in Halmstad, Sweden, was issued by Hyperion, as was Organ Fireworks XI, recorded on the Fisk organ in the Meyerson Symphony Hall, Dallas, making this the thirty-fifth disc in their fruitful collaboration. Future recording plans include Organ Fireworks XII to be recorded in Haderslev Cathedral, Denmark in the spring of 2007.

Christopher Herrick lives in Kingston-upon-Thames where he is able to play the large Frobenius organ of Kingston Parish Church. Aside from organ playing, he has conducted the Twickenham Choral Society for nearly 30 years.

'Herrick is a musician with a powerful urge to communicate. And communicate he does, drawing on his enormous technical and intellectual resources to turn out performances which sometimes amaze, often astound, but never fail to stimulate.' Gramophone

Source: Christopher Herrick Website; Wikipedia Website; All Music Guide Website (Author: Robert Cummings)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (September 2007)

Christopher Herrick: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works
Reviews of Instrumental Recordings:
Keeping Up with Christopher Herrick | More Bach from Herrick and Bowyer

Links to other Sites

Christopher Herrick, International Concert Organist (Official Website)
Artist Page: Christopher Herrick (Hyperion)
Christopher Herrick - biography, discography (Goldberg)

Christopher Herrick (Wikipedia)
Christopher Herrick - Biography (AMG)
Christopher Herrick Organ proms 2005


Stanley Webb: 'Herrick, Christopher', Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 2007-05-06)
Malcolm Bruno: Interview with Christopher Herrick, Choir & Organ (May/June 2002)
The Wall Street Journal, Personal Journal, Time Off/Backstage: Christopher Herrick (October 29, 2004)

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