The Scotsman Sessions #263: Andrew Forbes

Welcome to the award-winning Scotsman Sessions. With performing arts activity curtailed for the foreseeable future, we are commissioning a series of short video performances from artists all around the country and releasing them on scotsman.com, with introductions from our critics. Here, Andrew Forbes, organist and music director at Glasgow Cathedral, performs Louis Vierne’s Feux Follets (Will o’ the Wisp)

How often do we watch an episode of, say, Midsomer Murders where the village organist is a well-meaning parishioner stumbling over a simple psalm. It’s what so often gives the word amateur a bad name, and caricatures the so-called “king of instruments” as a necessary evil.

Here to prove otherwise is Andrew Forbes who has been the dynamic young music director at Glasgow Cathedral since graduating in 2014, equipped with all the physical and mental wizardry necessary to negotiate the terraced high-rise of multiple keyboards (manuals), pedal board and battery of organ stops and transform this mechanical monster into the most sublime of musical conduits.

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Maybe it’s the engineer in him. Forbes studied Naval Architecture before his passion for music took firmer hold. “That had other ecclesiastical advantages,” he says. “If you’re taught to run a shipyard, you understand the principles of good organisation. The Cathedral treasurer told me he’d never worked before with a musician who could read a balance sheet.”

Andrew Forbes

Balance is everything in conjuring up the mercurial fantasy world of Louis Vierne’s Feux Follets (“Will o’ the Wisp”), which Forbes performs for his Scotsman Session. “It’s such impressionistic, sparky writing, fairy tale magic,” suggests Forbes. “It shows off the organ in a way that is a bit more fun than people might expect.”

It’s also one of several pieces he included in his entry to the prestigious biennial St Alban’s International Organ Competition, which took place virtually last month due to Covid. His recorded performances propelled him as far as the finals in the face of fearsome international competition.

The biggest disappointment was not actually being there. “Part of the reason for entering was to meet everybody else in person, and to play the wonderful organ at St Alban’s Cathedral,” he says. “That was a bit of a bummer.”

For more on Andrew Forbes, see www.andrewforbes.org

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