"One of the world's greatest contemporary organists" (The New York Times, January 2020)
In January I finally got to experience that jolt of excitement 19th-century churchgoers knew so well when David Briggs, one of world’s greatest contemporary organists, gave a recital at St. Paul’s Chapel.
That cold day in January when Mr. Briggs gave his recital, he announced an improvisation on a theme he wouldn’t identify in advance but promised we would all know. First he played it through straight, the 30-odd notes of the famous melody by John Williams from the epic space opera “Star Wars.”
Then, after a tiny pause, Mr. Briggs organized his feet on the pedals, hunched his shoulders with a devilish expression on his face and set into a series of loud, heavy chords, conjuring a full orchestra with his hands and feet, pulling out different stops as he went along. A fugue-like section morphed into a riff on a carnival organ, then wandered into a minor-key lament in a performance that married the joy of improvised music with the unlimited capacity of the pipe organ. Turning around to face the audience and take a bow, Mr. Briggs made a gesture that’s unique among organists: He motioned to the instrument — his orchestra — so that we could applaud it too.
When the pandemic shut down live musical performances, Mr. Briggs retreated to a small town in coastal Massachusetts, where he was given the keys to a local church, the Ascension Memorial in Ipswich. From its much smaller but still grandly expressive organ, Mr. Briggs set up his phone and started streaming what became an 11-week series of daily “Hibernation Improvs,” short pieces that ranged from the meditative to the silly, with tributes to old masters — Bach, Purcell, Vierne, Duruflé — tossed in the mix.
Shut off from the real world, he tapped into that instinct that is clearly bred in the bone of every organist: to live in the moment by creating music that simultaneously evokes the past, vamps on the present and points a way to the future.
Annik LaFarge (New York Times)
Three Choirs Festival, Worcester 2021
'Take the staggeringly commanding (often joyously flamboyant) organ virtuoso David Briggs, now based in the United States. Briggs’s original compositions, amazing improvisations, and dazzling transcriptions of orchestral works (Mahler especially) have proved an international triumph. We were treated to his new translation of Vaughan Williams’s Fifth Symphony, entrancingly registered. How does he do it, one wonders.'
Roderic Dunnett (Church Times, 27th August 2021)
"The Cathedral was abuzz with your virtuosity and invention!"
The late John Scott, CVO, at the National Conference of the Incorporated Association of Organists, at Gloucester Cathedral, 2001
Truro Cathedral: Concert in aid of the Truro Cathedral music programme
'I’m writing to say a heartfelt thank you for the most wonderful concert last Tuesday. The uniquely extraordinary colours you get from the Willis are seemingly endless and I was captivated by every minute of the programme. So much real magic of a kind that I so rarely hear on the organ.'
Christopher Gray (Director of Music, Truro Cathedral, 20th August 2021)
James Roman (Organist, St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, Houston, TX)
Music by J S Bach, F J Haydn, Cesar Franck, Louis Vierne, Camille Saint-Saens, Paul Dukas and Improvisations
(January 24th, 2021)
'He offered a masterful, engaging and inspired performance of works by Bach, Briggs, Franck, Haydn, Liszt, and Vierne before concluding with not one, but two absolutely jaw dropping improvisations...'
Mahler 2 transcription at King’s College, Cambridge with Cambridge University Music Society
This was a most powerful and moving experience on very many levels. Not only the music itself, but the astonishing feat of your having arranged it all for organ, and the amazing quality of your realization of it. It was a privilege to have been involved.
The late Stephen Stephen Cleobury
C.B.E. (Director of Music King's College, Cambridge, April 2014)
Mahler concert is 'life-enhancing experience'
David Briggs/Three Spires Singers Mahler Symphony No 2
How can you fit one of the largest symphonies (with full chorus) into one of the smallest cathedrals? Simply dispense with the orchestra – David Briggs is worldfamous for his organ transcriptions – his brilliant programme essay fully justifies them as genuine re-creations. Mahler 2 is a real challenge, with orchestra including harps, gongs, bells and even a bunch of twigs (honestly) and the full score expands to 32 staves in places (it gives me a headache just to look at it). But I needn't have worried; from the arresting opening, and for the next hour before the chorus entered (probably the longest wait in any major work) we were taken on a truly amazing journey – David knows this organ so well, not only utilising all the characteristic strengths of the Willis – convincing strings, imitative winds, burnished brass – but using his amazing technique to create instrumental sounds that should be impossible; the console cameras covering his every move also prove that it's possible to play all four manuals simultaneously – not to mention the unique divided pedal; it was definitely just him and not some magical musical millipede.
There are too many wonderful details for a single review, but I loved the stampede down several octaves at the end of the first movement, the Viennese elegance of the pizzicato section of the second movement, the demonic scherzo with the snarling pedals, shrieking clarinet, roaring horns and trumpets – a nightmare carousel ride culminating in a terrifying thunderbolt which shook the building. The fourth movement brought the total contrast of Sarah Pring's rich mezzo tones, leading to the apocalyptic finale – 'offstage' trumpets, birdsong over distant horncalls, and after sitting patiently for so long, the chorus made a superb entry, six-part unaccompanied, with solo soprano soaring above, and in ecstatic duet with the mezzo. Then a massive prolonged crescendo – who but Three Spires could sustain triple forte and not be drowned out by David Briggs' one-man-orchestra?
If there is a musical equivalent of an epic Wimbledon final, this was it, a pulse-racing, life-enhancing experience which will long be remembered by those who were there.
The West Briton, UK, July 2013
Mahler 2 at St Philip’s Cathedral, Atlanta, GA - May 2017
I am so delighted that we were able to collaborate on Mahler 2 at long last. Your "recasting" of it was utterly engaging and breathtakingly beautiful, and the effusive comments of appreciation for the whole experience continue to pour in here…we were all deeply, deeply touched by the performance.
Dale Adelmann, PhD Canon for Music The Cathedral of St Philip Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Recital at Sydney Town Hall, Australia
No doubt those who attended David Briggs' recital at Sydney Town Hall and had not heard this artist before came along expecting to hear just the usual high standard of performance that one associates with the incumbent of a major British cathedral. Few would have expected an hour of such stunning virtuosity, technical competence and musical excellence, the like of which has been heard only on a handful of occasions at this venue over the last decade or so... a consummate artist...
Sydney Organ Journal, April 2002