Pulling out all the stops

Verdi's Requiem at St Paul's is the final act for the organist John Scott

John Scott, the organist and director of music at St Paul's Cathedral, has been sitting at the venue's vast organ for the past 26 years. In that time he has witnessed grand ceremonies, choirboys fainting, and soloists turning up at the last minute, while he himself has managed on occasion to play quite the wrong hymns. Now he is to bow out with a performance of Verdi's Requiem, conducting the cathedral's choir and chorus and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in his farewell concert. The soloists include Orla Boylan (soprano) and Adrian Thompson (tenor).

John Scott, the organist and director of music at St Paul's Cathedral, has been sitting at the venue's vast organ for the past 26 years. In that time he has witnessed grand ceremonies, choirboys fainting, and soloists turning up at the last minute, while he himself has managed on occasion to play quite the wrong hymns. Now he is to bow out with a performance of Verdi's Requiem, conducting the cathedral's choir and chorus and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in his farewell concert. The soloists include Orla Boylan (soprano) and Adrian Thompson (tenor).

"A farewell concert was a kind suggestion from the dean and chapter," says Scott, who is set to become the organist and director of music at St Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, in New York. It has been a big year for him - he was also awarded the LVO in the New Year's Honours List. "After contemplating the Mass in B Minor by Bach or one of the Handel's oratorios, I decided upon Verdi's Requiem," says Scott. It is a personal favourite that he has conducted once before, for the cathedral's tercentenary in 1997.

"It is the greatest piece of sacred choral music ever composed," says Scott of the work, which, when first performed in 1874 in Milan, was criticised for being "too operatic". "Verdi was primarily a composer of opera, and some have said, somewhat ironically, that perhaps the Requiem is his greatest opera. It also matches St Paul's in its theatricality and scale. There is something spectacular about it that perhaps you don't appreciate so much in the confines of a concert hall."

Scott maintains that the cathedral adds a new dimension to the music. "In the second movement, the 'Dies Irae', it is tremendously dramatic. There is a moment when trumpets in the orchestra are answered by trumpets from afar, on one side of the cathedral and then the other, played high up in the galleries. They are distant trumpets at first but there is a wonderful crescendo that leads up to all the brass instruments in the orchestra playing a fantastically big chord."

Surely it is going to be a huge upheaval leaving after such a long time? "It is a big change, but it seems a good time to move on," says Scott, who after leaving Cambridge joined St Paul's as an assistant organist in 1978. "I remember when I got a phone call at St John's College, Cambridge, asking me to play for evensong on Wednesday at St Paul's. It was a bit of a shock because it was Monday. I didn't realise at the time that it was an audition for the job."

Leaving St Paul's will be a big upheaval, not least because he will be saying goodbye to the cathedral's famous organ. "It is a fine instrument," he says. "There is no other organ quite like it. A handful of pipes go back to 1694, and the main part dates from 1872. When I see tourists on the super tour of St Paul's with audio tapes, I'm always thinking to myself, 'I must do that before I leave'."



Verdi's 'Requiem', St Paul's Cathedral, London EC4 (0845 120 7543; www.barbicanorg.uk/eticketing), Tuesday, 7.15pm

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