Internationally renowned musician Simon Leach (pictured) has been appointed to one of Scotland’s most unusual positions – as House Organist for a magnificent Borders mansion.
The role will see him bring the recently restored organ, in the Sir Robert Lorimer designed Music Room, at Marchmont House, back into regular use for public and private recitals.
The organ is full of historical significance, with strong links to the composers Sir Charles Villiers Stanford and Ralph Vaughan Williams – regular guests of Marchmont’s then owner Robert Finnie McEwen, who was a passionate supporter of the arts.
The inaugural concert in 1920 when guest organist Dr W B Ross (famed for writing the descant to Crimond performed at the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in 1947) played pieces including J S Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor.
The concert was to raise funds for a war memorial in Greenlaw to commemorate the fallen local soldiers of the First World War.
The Marchmont team (led by Hugo Burge the former tech entrepreneur who now lives at the house) decided to restore the organ (a substantial commitment as it had not had an overhaul in 100 years) and bring it back to life as part of the wider plan to give the mansion and estate a new future as a home for creativity in arts and business.
Leach, who is Director of Music at Edinburgh’s Canongate Kirk and regularly plays for Radio 4’s Sunday Worship and Daily Service, says his role is a dream come true – and a rare opportunity.
He said: “I’m not sure that there is a role quite like this anywhere else in the country, if there is it’s very rare, and it’s certainly very special.
“Our plan, when Covid-19 restrictions allow, is to offer public and corporate recitals, giving the people of the Borders and businesses the chance to enjoy events filled with high quality music. We will bring in other musicians and plan to offer a whole range of music,
“The aim is to bring Lorimer’s Music Room and the whole house alive – very much in the spirit of what Robert Finnie McEwen originally intended.”
Leach, who lives in the Borders, is committed to sharing his love of classical music and making it accessible to all. He performed with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa during a UK tour and played for an episode of ITV’s Coronation Street and also for Carols with Corrie.
He regularly gives solo recitals – venues have included Westminster, Coventry, Newcastle and Liverpool Metropolitan cathedrals as well as Cambridge, St Andrews and Edinburgh universities. Simon has also made appearances in New York and at Notre Dame de Paris.
He was introduced to Marchmont by his former tutor Thomas Trotter and immediately recognised the importance of the musical instrument (perhaps the largest of its kind in a private house in Scotland) which is housed in an elaborate case carved by William & Alexander Clow of Edinburgh from designs by Louis Deuchars.
One of these is the link to Stanford, a professor of music at Cambridge and a founder of the Royal College of Music. Stanford became one of Britain’s most prominent musicians but was later eclipsed by some of his own pupils such as Gustav Holst and Vaughan Williams.
Leach said: “There’s a 99% certainty Stanford was involved with the design. He certainly visited and played there. So this is not just an organ that Stanford’s music sounds good on, it’s an organ his music was made on.
“To have such a close connection with someone of his stature is remarkable. It’s the difference between having the actual bed that Queen Victoria slept in or one quite like it.”
The 1,961 pipe organ, built by the newly merged firms Norman and Beard and William Hill and Sons, was finished in 1917 and cost £1,375. Unusually it has not been modernised or enlarged to make it easier to play or change the tone.
Leach said: “If McEwen came back and turned it on it would sound exactly the same. This makes it very important. You are hearing music of the time as it was written to be heard.”
Future plans include presenting works by Vaughan Williams, C H Parry and other composers contemporary with the organ. Leach would also like to see community engagement and to play orchestral transcriptions, which commonly performed in the period, and there are hopes for special events to mark the centenary of Stanford’s death in 2024.
Hugo Burge, Director of Marchmont, said: “Restoring the music room and organ to their original condition is like building a time machine – it allows us to step back 100 years and hear the music that was played there exactly as it would have sounded.
“Having someone with Simon’s talents as our House Organist gives us the chance to celebrate and share some of the world’s finest music and is also another major step forward in making Marchmont a national focal point for the arts and creativity.”
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Notes for Editors
For media information contact Matthew Shelley at Matthew@ScottishFestivalsPR.Org or 07786 704299.
Photo by Colin Hattersley.
- Following the recent completion of award-winning restoration, the goal is now to bring the house alive as a home for makers and creators, celebrating innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship.
- Located near Greenlaw in the Scottish Borders, Marchmont House is only open to the public for a limited number of days each year, for tours and special events. It was awarded the 2018 Historic Houses/Sotheby’s Award for the recently completed seven-year restoration, which was described by the jury as “stunning”.
- The Creative Spaces project is entirely privately funded by Marchmont Farms Limited and has not called on grants from the public sector or charities – which are facing immense demands for their limited resources.
- The project’s value has already been demonstrated by the establishing of The Marchmont Workshop, which has saved the great 19th-century tradition of Arts & Crafts rush seated ladder back chairs.
- Visit www.marchmonthouse.com for more information.
- For information about The Marchmont Workshop see https://themarchmontworkshop.com.
About the organ
- Following the restoration there was an inaugural concert by Thomas Trotter in 2019.
- Marchmont House also has a great deal of documentation about the organ, including the original estimate from the makers.
- Stanford dedicated the Pianoforte Concerto no.2 in C minor to Robert Finnie McEwen and Carl Stoechel.
- McEwen’s high regard for Stanford is reflected in the fact that he commissioned a portrait of him by Sir William Orpen.
- Vaughan Williams sent McEwen Three Preludes on Welsh Hymn Tunes, presumably to be played on the organ.
About Simon Leach
- Simon is the Director of Music at the Church at the Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh, and is in demand as an organ recitalist, continuo player and accompanist, as well as for regular broadcast work.
- He combines piano and organ teaching posts at ESMS schools, St Mary’s Prep School, Melrose, Academy teaching for the Royal College of Organists and Manchester University with work as a freelance musician in Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders.
- Simon performed with the Sixteen under the baton of Harry Christophers for the 60th birthday celebrations for Sir James Macmillan as part of the Edinburgh Festival.
- He is an examiner for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music and the organist at Marchmont House.
- Simon studied with Gordon Stewart at the Royal Northern College of Music from 1988-1992, appearing in masterclasses with Daniel Roth, Olivier Latry, David Sanger and Jaques van Oortmesson.
- His latest CD recording, of the organ music of Naji Hakim with Benedict Holland and John Turner, received outstanding reviews from both sides of the Atlantic and his performances of Hakim’s music have been broadcast on BBC Radio 3.
- Simon also plays continuo in Edinburgh and frequently works with the Scottish Chamber Choir.
About Hugo Burge
- Director of Marchmont Ventures which is building sustainable creativity in the arts, crafts and purpose driven business.
- Director of Marchmont Farms Ltd., which operates Marchmont Estate, with a focus on restoring Marchmont House and bringing it back to life after a period of institutional usage.
- Former CEO of the Momondo Group which powers pioneering brands that shape and inspire global travel search.