Getting the tone right – how to buy a concert organ

Andy Davies
posted by Andy Davies
14 April 2015

Procurement professionals from non-profit London Universities Purchasing Consortium (LUPC) are supporting the world-renowned Royal College of Music in a project to acquire its first new concert hall organ in over a century.

Tenders are due back in late April in an international competition involving organ builders selected after a pioneering bidder-selection process. This involves evaluating a number of instruments in cathedrals and concert halls across Europe, not only for their design and workmanship, but also for their tonal quality, balance, touch and reliability against RCM’s stringent requirements.

The Royal College of Music is one of the world’s great conservatoires, training gifted musicians from all over the world for international careers including composers Gustav Holst, Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten, conductors Leopold Stokowski and Sir Colin Davis and performers Dame Joan Sutherland and Sir James Galway. With 1,150 students from more than 60 countries, college professors are musicians with worldwide reputations, while its many performing groups – including five orchestras, two jazz bands and the RCM International Opera School – are celebrated for the vitality and excellence of their performances, and are regularly invited to perform at significant venues both in the UK and overseas.

The current organ, a gift from the then-director and composer Sir Hubert Parry, has reached the end of its useful life. The project team, led by the college’s triple Grammy-winning artistic director Stephen Johns, will procure an instrument – taking into account the tonal concept and specification – that reflects the organ-builder’s imagination and vision. The organ will be designed both as a teaching and as a concert instrument, for solo recitals and performances with orchestra and choir of works from the German, French and English repertoires, both classical and romantic.

Also ground-breaking are the bespoke contract terms and conditions for the organ build, commissioned from LUPC by the RCM, when builders have traditionally traded only on their own terms. RCM’s conditions balance risk more equitably between builder and client, with the aim of building and maintaining a concert hall instrument for the rest of this century and beyond. LUPC will also support tender evaluation, negotiation, contract award and management of the builder relationship.

This project demonstrates the versatility of LUPC to support its members’ procurement and commercial projects in a consultancy capacity. We are no longer just about competitive framework agreements for goods and services, important though they are.  We look forward to helping RCM deliver a top-quality instrument, a lasting legacy that meets its long-term commercial as well as artistic goals.

After 10 weeks of ‘voicing’, handover of the new instrument is anticipated in the autumn of 2017.

Andy Davies is director at London Universities Purchasing Consortium

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