The long awaited evening of 2 July 2016 had finally arrived and the church was filling up fast with the audience of 260 (160 seats sold in advance) as the orchestra tuned up and the front of house team made sure everyone found a seat. The galleries on either side were packed as was every seat in the nave and additional chairs under the galleries.
Milton Keynes Sinfonia is 60 strong and a symphony orchestra of that size takes a lot of floor space. Even the pulpit and Blessed Sacrament chapel benches were moved to accommodate them.
I welcomed everyone to the first ever orchestral concert with the Willis pipe organ before the leader Jan Kaznowski and conductor David Knight came out to take a bow as William Thallon took his place at the organ console.
The concert began with the Poulenc Organ Concerto (with string and timpani orchestra), a dramatic piece full of tonal contrast and 20th century harmonies which showed off the soft and loud stops of the organ brilliantly as well as the full range of the string orchestra. I had enjoyed hearing it during the afternoon rehearsal and even more so in performance.
William coped very well with the distance between the organ and orchestra which does involve accommodating a fractional time delay in sound travel and watching the conductor via a mirror.
The woodwind and brass sections of the orchestra joined the strings for the Chants d'Auvergne by Canteloube.
Lottie Greenhow stood on the higher podium to sing the Songs with the orchestra which perfectly evoked summer sunshine in central France.
With the warm evening light still coming through the church windows it wasn't hard to visualize the Pastoral scenes depicted in the songs and Lottie carried them off brilliantly.
We served wine, juice and snacks during the interval. The weather was kind so some people stood outside to chat as it was crowded in the church.
One person (aged 90) had to leave at the interval because she had to be up early the next morning, she told us "I can't stay for the second half, but I have so enjoyed it!"
And so for the 'dream come true' as the second half was devoted to the Camille Saint Saëns Symphony No 3 Opus 78 (The Organ Symphony). Even though I'd heard it in rehearsal it was still utterly wonderful to hear this music in our Parish Church being played with our restored Willis pipe organ for the first time in concert.
Many of those in the original organ fundraising group were present as front of house team, standing or sitting at the back of the church under the gallery with me. I caught David Scrutton's eye during the music and we exchanged huge grins - this was a big reward for all our effort in 10 years.
The symphony consists of two pairs of movements. The organ takes a small, quieter part in the first pair and dominates the finale. The Willis, with the additional 4 stops, is fully capable of achieving the quieter and melodic parts required in this piece as well as the grand majestic finale in which the much louder stops are employed to full effect. For the audience sitting in the nave between orchestra and organ it was surround sound! Personally it was a immensely moving experience - more happy tears. The orchestra, conductor and organist deserved the rapturous and lengthy applause at the end.
I took to the podium again, this time with two framed pipe dedication certificates which I presented to David Knight and Milton Keynes Sinfonia (an original Father Willis Hautboy - oboe pipe in the Swell) and the other was for William Thallon (an original Father Willis Flûte Couverte in the Great).
Comments received afterwards included:
"A wonderful evening"
"So good to hear the organ"
"Sinfonia top notch"
"Wonderful concert last night, I’m still buzzing about the buzz of it all, quite apart from the music"
It was superb conclusion to our 10 weeks of Organ Restoration Celebration events. 10 years of fundraising, generous support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and our community appreciation and support for music helped us realise this dream.
Thank you Milton Keynes Sinfonia, David Knight, William Thallon, Lottie Greenhow for a very memorable performance, James Jarvis for suggesting it and to Lesley Salter for coordinating the concert arrangements.
Additional photos can be seen at MK Sinfonia Inaugural organ and orchestra concert
Words by Anna Page, photos by Eleanor Page