Organist Wesley Warren to make Westminster Abbey debut in March

Photo of Wesley Warren

Organist and choir conductor Wesley Warren has maintained a foothold, or perhaps an organ-pedal hold, at some of the great churches of London as an organ recitalist, but on March 22 he will make his debut at one of the oldest and greatest of them all. On the evening of Mothering Sunday he'll perform a 30-minute program on the organ of Westminster Abbey. 

His Abbey appearance will be followed by a second recital at St. Michael's Church, Cornhill, the following afternoon. At both events Mr. Warren will perform the Sonata No. 2 in C minor (Op. 65) - by Felix Mendelssohn, as well as works by Herbert Howells and Healey Willan, and adding to the St. Michael's program additional works by Bach and Buxtehude.

Mr. Warren notes that his choice of Willan's Passacaglia and Fugue No. 2 in E minor is especially significant, as Willan dedicated it to William McKie, the former Organist and Master of the Choristers at Westminster Abbey, who led the music for Queen Elizabeth's wedding and coronation. The degrees of separation are further reduced by the fact that McKie himself later retired along with his Canadian-born wife to Ottawa, where Mr. Warren struck up a friendship with him as a teenaged music student. 

Although experienced on large instruments in imposing spaces -- Mr. Warren's CV includes concerts and services in Winchester Cathedral, St John the Divine in New York and the Frauenkirche in Munich -- Mr. Warren notes that playing a large, complicated organ in a cathedral-sized acoustic always presents a range of challenges. One is working with the sound delay: "You try to adjust your tempos and pacing to accommodate a large acoustic, but too slow a tempo can be boring for the listener and reduce the impact and excitement of the music. Clarity of touch and intention is important," he notes. Another is adapting to an unfamiliar console with limited rehearsal time. "Each instrument has its own character and challenges, which you must come to grips with quickly.... You try to design the programme to bring out the best aspects of the instrument, showing off the particular colours and ensemble to the best advantage."

The recital dates follow two other recitals Mr. Warren gave at London churches in the fall of 2017 -- at St. Lawrence, Jewry and Holy Trinity, Sloane Square. His appearance at St. Michael's, Cornhill, comes at the invitation of that church's organist, Jonathan Rennert, who remembered Mr. Warren's prize-winning examinations at the Royal College of Organists years ago. Mr. Warren, who has been studying lately in periodic lessons in Montreal with McGill-based Visiting Professor of Organ, Christian Lane, applied directly to Westminster Abbey at his teacher's recommendation. 

Although his reputation as visiting organist from Canada is growing -- "Word does gets around," he says -- that doesn't mean his latest apprearances will be stress free. One of his first tasks on arriving in London, he notes, will be rehearsing that same evening on the Abbey's main organ, while dealing with jet lag at the same time. "Trepidations include jet-lag, late practice sessions, adjusting to a large and perhaps complicated console, and keeping focussed musically prior to the event."