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Artist Hyperion Records
John, Keith (organ)

Keith John (organ)

'Keith John's brilliant technique is the servant of his musicianship - and of his great sense of fun'

(Musical Times)

Keith John’s early musical influences derive from an official introduction to the piano at the age of four and the music at Gloucester Cathedral. He was a chorister there for the five years that coincided with the last of Herbert Sumsion’s 39 years. Keith maintains it was only the fact he had perfect pitch and no difficulty at all with the various musical tests put before him that allowed him in: his voice was nothing special which is still true today. He loved the music and, of course, the organ which invariably accompanied it.

Having been immersed in the glorious, comfortable Sumsion tradition, it was a shock some years later when Ralph Downes was appointed to rebuild the Cathedral organ. This opened up a whole new world of sound and approach, not only to organ music, but also to the wider world of music which had gradually been making itself known post chorister days with the realization that there was plenty of life, musical and otherwise, outside the cathedral close. This fact was further emphasized whilst at the Royal College of Music where Keith probably spent as much time playing the piano as the organ. It was while he was accompanying a multitude of various instrumentalists that he met his wife who is now an experienced teacher of piano and clarinet. His son, Dominic, is continuing the family tradition and is embarking on a career as a concert pianist. Ralph Downes introduced Keith to the Royal Festival Hall and its wealth of concerts, the wonderful organ there and consequently the world of the international organ recitalist, demonstrated comprehensively at 5.55 most Wednesdays at that time and sadly missed.

Whilst gradually building a reputation as a recitalist with the obligatory hurdles to jump such as competitions, the next major influence was Jean Guillou. Keith had written expressing a wish to study his music with him and was invited to a small French village high up in the Alps where, in L’Eglise Notre Dame des Neiges, L’Alpe d’Huez, there was an organ of twenty something stops. The initial disappointment at the prospect of having to play large scale organ works on such a small instrument quickly evaporated on seeing and playing this remarkable ‘big/ little’ organ; it was one of the maestro’s early masterpieces of organ design. The inspiration derived from this first meeting was tremendous and a freedom of creative spirit released. The organ could play virtually anything and the concert organist was the equal of a concert pianist or even an orchestra.

It is this view which has influenced Keith’s general approach ever since, yet.he finds the organ repertoire can be a problem. In comparison to the glories of the piano or orchestral repertoire, the percentage of works with substance and invention (sadly there are many mediocre, often trite organ pieces), is alarmingly small. Transcription is one way of remedying this with suitably chosen works which transfer well to the organ with no degradation of any kind. A work can be seen in a new light or, at best, enhanced. The list of Keith’s transcriptions grows steadily with works such as “Pictures at an Exhibition”, “The Water Music”, “St. Antoni Chorale Variations” and “Nutcracker Suite” established concert and recorded favourites.

Apart from the organ, an interest in travel from earlier decades leads him to a variety of locations representing different eras where, with luck, it may be possible to recreate a bygone scene on film. HK is infinitely preferable to MK!


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