Kirklees’ favourite organist Gordon Stewart bows out

Gordon Stewart in front of the town hall organ at Christmas

Borough Organist Dr Gordon Stewart is retiring, after providing a programme of world-class music for Huddersfield audiences for the last 30 years.

World-renowned performer and teacher, Gordon has been a regular conductor on BBC’s Songs of Praise as well as a musical director for countless broadcasts on BBC Radio. His former students have held positions at St Paul’s Cathedral London, Westminster Abbey and Coventry Cathedral.

Gordon has played hundreds of concerts in Huddersfield Town Hall and pre-covid, his much-loved lunchtime concerts would regularly attract large audiences. Being part of the Kirklees Concert Season for such a long time, Gordon has built a real community with both the audience and staff in Kirklees and he will be missed by many.

2020 has been a difficult year for us all, but thanks to a partnership between the Lawrence Batley Theatre, The University of Huddersfield and Kirklees Council, Gordon has been able to continue the 2020/21 Concert Season online, bringing joy to hundreds of viewers. These online concerts have also been streamed into care homes, allowing those who may not have previously been able to attend to experience Gordon’s performances.

His final concert, full of Christmas favourites, will be streamed online on Monday 7 December. This Christmas concert, along with the rest of the online series, will be available to view on the LBT’s YouTube channel.

While 7 December will be Gordon’s last official concert, he will return to play a proper farewell concert with a live audience. There is currently no set a date for this, although it is hoped that it will be sometime in late 2021.

Dr Gordon Stewart, said:

“It has been a great privilege to have been one of the few remaining ’Civic’ organists for the past 30 years. Saying goodbye to the wonderful Father Willis organ will not be easy, but the Monday Series is still attracting good audiences and I know that the organ is beautifully maintained by Woods of Huddersfield.

“There have been many highlights over the years; the British premier of Andrew Carter’s Organ Concerto and his 80th birthday concert, Poulenc’s Concerto in a concert which included Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Huddersfield Choral Society and Orchestra of Opera North, and Christmas concerts with a variety of youth choirs, to name but a few.

“Apart from my concerts, visiting recitalists have come from all over the UK and from France, Germany and the Netherlands, all helping to make the series the success it is.

“Although I will cease to be Borough Organist at the end of the year, once the restrictions are over I will return for a farewell recital and an opportunity to say goodbye and thank you to the audience members and team at Kirklees and the Town Hall who been such a great support over the years.”

Cllr Paul Davies, Cabinet Member for Culture and Environment, said:

“Gordon is really popular in Kirklees and over the years has built up a real relationship with his audience, always taking the time to talk to them in the foyer at the end of every concert. His concerts at the Town Hall have been a big part of many lives for a very long time, he’ll be missed by both staff members and his fans.

“We are really pleased that in these uncertain times Gordon’s music has still been able to bring joy to so many, with each of the Online Concert Series having had hundreds of views.

“All of us at the Town Hall are looking forward to being able to welcome Gordon back for a proper farewell concert once it is safe to do so.”

Looking to the future, the council want to work with audiences to find a new approach to the Organ Series and the lunchtime concerts in Huddersfield. Never fear, the Town Hall’s Father Willis organ will be well looked after until the launch of the 2021/22 Concert Season, hopefully in much better times.