Roger Sayer, organist

Who or what inspired you to take up the organ and pursue a career in music?

My Grandfather was a self-taught organist and my mother a singer and piano teacher. I was a Chorister at a modest church in Portsmouth but with an enthusiastic choirmaster and a large choir. These were huge influences on me and I loved the sight and sound of the organ. I was intrigued by the complexities. I bought so many LP’s of Choral and organ music that I lived and breathed it from a young age. By 16 I was running the choir and organist of the same church; I believed it was a cathedral!

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

A kind man who was organist of the Dockyard church allowed me to ‘mess around’ on that organ and he encouraged me. He was a big influence. Martin How who was southern commissioner for the RSCM was a brilliant choir trainer and I sang under him as a boy on courses and later played the organ for the RSCM Cathedral Courses under Martin. He was so inspiring. My time with Christopher Dearnley, organist at St Paul’s Cathedral, gave me the closest insights into accompanying, whilst in later years working as accompanist to the London Symphony Chorus put me in a privileged position, working with some of the world’s leading conductors

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Starting the girls choir in Rochester Cathedral was a challenge. Getting them to a good standard and embracing the tradition takes a long time and lots of patience. Other significant challenges involved playing a film score live, unable to see the conductor and with the orchestra a long way away!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

In 2001 I made a recording with my Rochester Cathedral choir of Ralph Vaughan Williams Choral music. The sound of that particular choir still fills me with pleasure. It was not an easy place to make good music, so this makes that particular disc all the more valuable. Unfortunately it doesn’t feature in any catalogue. I suppose being the soloist in a Hollywood blockbuster (Interstellar) is something rather special, and has put the organ more ‘out there’.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I particularly like the German Romantic period. Having recorded all 20 sonatas of Rheinberger I suppose you get to understand a bit about the style. I’m not an expert on any style; I enjoy performing Bach, but everyone seems to be an expert on this.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

As Director of the Temple Church Choir, my choices are primarily governed by the liturgical commitments that can have a natural cross over between services and concerts. I also want to allow the Choristers to experience the very best that is possible for them. That includes light jazz as well as the classical greats. As an organist, the choice of repertoire is governed by the instrument and building. My favourite building for both sound and organ is the the great Bavo Church in Holland.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Karl Richter; I love his Bach playing! Such a fine articulated legato and free from gimmick. Bernard Haitink and Colin Davis too. Such natural instinctive musicians without ‘scholarship’ hang ups.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Performing in St. Paul’s Cathedral is an experience one never forgets. The building is awesome and the organ matched it pillar for pillar. I think playing at the Royal Albert hall was another great occasion that I will not forget.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Joy! Natural enjoyment is what I try to impart. Not being afraid of making mistakes, giving yourself permission to make mistakes somehow liberates you. Work hard at freedom of technique and try to remove yourself from the performing equation – that’s what we aspire to. Not easy and not often achieved.

RS-2-427x640Roger conducts Temple Church Choir in English and French Twentieth Century Masterworks on Thursday 18 May at Temple Church, London. Details:

Roger will release a new recording of the complete Rheinberger Organ Sonatas on the Priory Label in 2018.

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