The Lady Organist

an online magazine for organists

Five questions for…D’Arcy Trinkwon

International concert organist D’Arcy Trinkwon realised his musical vocation during his years as a chorister at Canterbury Cathedral under Allan Wicks – following studies with H A Bate in London, he went to the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester.  Fascination for the French virtuoso organ tradition as represented particularly by Jeanne Demessieux and her teacher Dupré inevitably drew him to Paris, where he completed his formal studies with Jean Guillou and Odile Pierre.   This fascination with the life and works of Demessieux has continued – more on that below.

D’Arcy has performed more than 900 recitals in concert halls, cathedral, and churches worldwide, including radio and television appearances. He is repeatedly invited to return by promoters and is at home performing on great modern instruments as on famous historic ones.  He comments that although he applies careful scholarship and a study of the performance traditions of the past, ultimately he does not he does not necessarily seek to offer ‘authentic’ performances, striving instead to find the extraordinary, free from the limitations of the printed page.

Examples of his inspiring performances and the resulting dazzling reviews on his website – which is a joy to visit, by the way, scattered with entertaining quotes about music.  And here’s how D’Arcy answered my five questions:

D'arcy Trinkwon 650px

D’Arcy Trwinkwon

Which piece of music are you studying at the moment and why?

I always have a lot of pieces to prepare for recitals – a mass of different things and styles because I always choose repertoire for each individual instrument’s particular character – as much as the building’s too. Then there is other music I might be looking at, revising, or learning; more that I want to play for the sheer hell of it. Or maybe because an idea about them – or something in them – has drifted into my mind and I need to look at it.

Then there are other things I work on – if irregularly – too: a lot of things at the piano, including bursts of technique study (most recently I did a lot on the Cortot studies), piano repertoire which I love as I studied piano very seriously … and always Bach – whose music has a magic above all others and gives one something little else can give. And I play it in all kinds of styles too – and that teaches you so much more about it.

But study is, and has always been for me, much more than physically playing it at the organ or piano… I devour scores, study them and around them, or work on them in my head. And I love it.

And quite often I choose not to play at all – which I find very refreshing – because there may be many other things I want to do. I never wanted to be chained to practise.

It isn’t how much you do – but what you actually do, and how you do it. And with what passions, convictions, and motivations!

What has been your best experience as an organist?

I became an organist because I love – passionately – the great music. So, above all, when everything is in unity it is the best: me with the instrument, with the music, the acoustic and setting, the ambiance of it all together. Great organs and buildings can offer visionary insight into music that one knows profoundly.

When this happens, you can be intoxicated on music, on the art, and moved to new vision.

What has been your worst experience as an organist?

The opposite of the above… Trying to make the best of situations – and organs – that make you despair! It happens… Then there are certain practicalities – being locked in somewhere: I’ve been locked cathedrals and churches. Losing keys and so on… I was once asked to climb to the organ loft – in front of the audience! – for a recital by a ladder – because the keys had vanished! I didn’t do it…

Then they can be the frustrations of travel – being grounded, stuck in queues at airports, hotels where the vibe is wrong or unsettling, and so on. I hate this kind of thing, and unlike some (who I admire enormously), I find this difficult. Or people who are just plain difficult.

What’s the best piece of advice you were given by an organ teacher? (and who was it?)

Odile Pierre said to me ‘Music is a tyrant – but she gives the greatest pleasures’ …

There is so much advice I would offer…

  • Love what you play and seek to reveal its beauty to others: do not just play it.
  • Great music builds bridges in more ways than can be imagined
  • Don’t play down to audiences – which is so patronising. Elevate them to see the vision from the top.
  • There are 100s of different ways to doing things: but in a concert you can only do it one way.
  • Listen and explore Life in every way and seek out all its aesthetic riches: your playing will benefit beyond years of dry practise.

At the time, one of the most enigmatic pieces of advice I was ever given was “No advice! Each must fend for themselves!”… At the time it felt a bit like a slap in the face – but the years have taught me what was meant.

 What would be your own best piece of advice for student organists?

A list…

Do not accept it just because what you’re told it: vision never came to fruition by obeying orders. Discuss, question, explore, never lose a sense of wonder. And never be complacent.

Aim to show people the beauty of music and what it might say to and for them – not what it says about you. (Although we all reveal so much about ourselves in our playing). Musicians are mediums for a greater message, for healing and the benefit of others.

Beware of anyone who can’t cope with a difference of idea or approach.

The more you know – the less you realise you know.

Listen, love, laugh and LIVE! Without these four Ls ‘musicians’ get very dull.

And I always smile when I think of Allan Wicks’ saying “We might be praising God – but we’re still in showbiz!”

A personal fascination for D’Arcy has been the life and work of Jeanne Demessieux – awakened in his earliest years of playing the organ. He has given numerous performances of her works and has played a major part in establishing renewed interest in her music. In 1997 became the first organist other than the composer herself and her pupil Pierre Labric to perform her Six Etudes complete in concert, a feat he has subsequently repeated many times.  He has written several features and studies on both the woman and the musician – including in The Diapason  and Organists’ Review. (Click on those links to download the articles.) He is also Vice-President of Les Amis de Jeanne Demessieux.

Here are just two examples of D’Arcy playing the music of Jeanne Demessieux, on the organ of St Paul’s Cathedral, London – with the bonus of some wonderful photos of Demessieux in the chic hats and coats of the 50s and 60s.


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