Sebastian Heindl, aged 19 and a student of Martin Schmeding at the University of Music and Theatre, Leipzig, has won the Senior section of the Northern Ireland International Organ Competition (NIIOC), which took place on Monday 21 August on the Walker organ in St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, Armagh.

The competition is for organists aged 21 and under, who must be of diploma standard to enter the senior category.

Applications to take part were received from Hong Kong, China, France, Germany, Poland, Budapest, Slovakia, Lithuania, Canada, UK and Ireland. As a result of the exceptional standard, the shortlist was increased to from 12 to 15 competitors, representing eight countries.

The competition jury was chaired by the internationally-renowned recitalist Thomas Trotter, city organist of Birmingham. He was joined for the Senior category by David Hill, former organist of Westminster Cathedral, Winchester Cathedral and St John’s College Cambridge and until this month chief conductor of the BBC Singers; and for all three categories by organist, harpsichordist and pianist Malcolm Proud, organist of St Canice Cathedral, Kilkenny.

As first prize winner, Sebastian Hiendl wins £1,000, a £650 New York flight subsidy and six public recitals, hosted by venues including St Thomas Fifth Avenue, New York; Westminster Abbey, London, and Trinity College, Cambridge, in addition to a trophy. The first prize package is sponsored by an anonymous donor.

Hiendl is a former chorister of St Thomas Church in Leipzig, where J S Bach was organist. He is currently studying for a degree in church music, which includes liturgy, conducting, singing and jazz as well as organ performance. Hiendl’s NIIOC recital programme included his own transcription of the ‘Fanfare pour précéder La Péri’ by Paul Dukas, and concluded with the virtuosic Etude Héroique by the contemporary Canadian composer Rachel Laurin.

‘I have very much enjoyed taking part in the NIIOC,’ he said. ‘It is the third competition I have entered and this has been my biggest success. It is good for me to get to know this kind of organ, which is quite different from the instruments we have in Germany, especially because of the shape of the pedalboard. Luckily I knew my programme from memory because I spent most of the time looking at my feet! It also has some very different sounds. I liked the tuba stop, and used it a lot in my programme.’

The second prize of £500 and a hosted recital at Southwark Cathedral, London, sponsored by Wells-Kennedy Organ Partnership, Lisburn, went to Tom Rioult, 20, a student at the Conservatoire of Music, Dance and Theatre in Caen, France.

Third prize of £200 and a hosted recital at St Michael’s Church, Cornhill, London, sponsored by Cormont Music, went to Donal McCann of Belfast, who also won the Bach prize of £100 and a Bach recital at St John’s, Smith Square, London. McCann is a former pupil of Methodist College, Belfast and former chorister of St Peter’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Belfast; he has spent the past two years at Eton College and is about to take up an organ scholarship at King’s College, Cambridge.

Joshua Roebuck, 20, and Ashley Wagner, 21, both students of Henry Fairs at Birmingham Conservatoire, were highly commended.

Five players took part in the Intermediate Category of the competition. It was won by Jan-Aurel Dawidiuk, 16, from Hanover, Germany, who played Vierne’s Carillon de Westminster Op. 54 No 6 and Evocation II by Thierry Escaich. He receives £300 and a recital at St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, Armagh. Second prize went to Thomas Maxwell, 16, from the Republic of Ireland. Third prize went to Sophie Dudley, 17, from the UK, and Neil Barrett, 18, and James Osborne, 15 were commended.

The Junior category was won by Michael Nevin, 11, from Carryduff, County Down and a chorister of St Peter’s Cathedral, Belfast, who receives £200. Michael has won a music scholarship to the Pilgrims School, Winchester, and will take up a quiristership at Winchester College Chapel in September.

Commenting on the competition results and his experience of chairing the jury, Thomas Trotter said: ‘I think this is a great competition as an entry point for organists who want to dip their toes in the competition experience. The players can choose their own repertoire and they play for 20 minutes, so the task is very contained and easily achievable by an 18-20-year-old. There was quite a range of standards among this year’s entrants: there were people who would not have been out of place in one of the bigger competitions for experienced players, and there were a few who obviously found it quite a challenge, but nobody disgraced themselves. Sebastian Heindl stood out because of his well-balanced, unusual programme as well as his excellent playing. We were impressed that he included one of his own arrangements, which was very enterprising and meant there was a little bit more of him in the programme. Every competition programme needs a killer piece – the showstopper that, if it is played well, we can say “that was the outstanding performance of the competition”. Sebastian did just that with the Rachel Laurin piece, which I didn’t know. I always like to be surprised when I’m listening to a recital, and I also like to hear players performing contemporary music, so Sebastian scored highly for that. The second prize-winner, Tom Rioult, gave a wonderful performance of the Durufle Toccata and we were very impressed by Donal McCann’s performance of the Bach Trio Sonata in G Major BWV 530.’

Richard Yarr, founder and artistic director of the competition, said: ‘The atmosphere at this year’s competition has been very special. While achieving the highest possible standards, an international mix of competitors have celebrated with each other, learnt from each other and socialised together. They have forged connections which will no doubt last throughout their careers. That was my vision when I established NIIOC in 2011 and those are the qualities we are excited to build on.’

The Northern Ireland International Organ Competition is for organists under the age of 21. It offers substantial monetary prizes, prestigious recital opportunities and masterclasses with leading organists across the globe. Founded in 2011, from the outset it has attracted exceptionally gifted young players; early winners Ben Comeau, Ben Bloor, Richard Gowers and Andrew Forbes are already establishing successful careers. Last year saw the first winner from outside the British Isles, Mona Rozdestvenskyte from Russia.


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