Manage your Account

In Conversation with Joseph Nolan

Scoop Joseph Nolan

In the lead-up to Joseph Nolan's return to Perth Concert Hall in October, we caught up with him for a quick chat about what he's been up to recently and to learn a bit more about the magic of organ music.

Read all about it below!

Thanks for meeting us today, Joseph. Let's start from the very beginning of your musical journey. What drew you to the organ?

From the age of 5 I had been a pretty good pianist but a disappointing and unenthusiastic cellist. Aged 15, I sat down at the organ of my local church and the experience felt immediately ‘organic’. I discovered I was instantly able to coordinate my feet with my hands and it was love at first sight! 

What is one of your favourite things about being an organist?

One of the wonderful aspects of being an organist is playing at the innumerable spectacular venues which house organs (great and small!) all over the world. Playing Widor in France on instruments he himself played and composed organ symphonies for, or playing Bach on organs the master himself played in Germany is truly interacting and experiencing history in the present day. To touch and experiment with repertoire designed for a particular historical instrument is both a thrill and a privilege that is difficult to describe in words. These organs also tend to have the distinct advantage of being housed in magnificent buildings and you would have to be a short sighted individual not to appreciate the privilege you have been afforded. The historical organs at which I have recorded discs, such as at St Sulpice Paris, St Ouen Rouen and most recently St Bavo, Haarlem, play you, not the other way round. You cannot force your will on these instruments. As such they inform you greatly as a player. 


What are some of the most exciting concerts you’ve played? 

The opening concert of Buckingham Palace Grand Ballroom Organ was both thrilling and very nerve wracking as I had made the error of looking through the guest list in advance of the event. The Grand Ballroom was filled with the who’s who of the music world at that time and the organ (said to have been played by Mendelssohn) was a unique instrument with no stop aids and a pedal board which sat acutely off centre to the right side of the organist.

My solo debut for a full house at Sydney Opera House in the 2017 Sydney Symphony Orchestra season was a really magical concert and I am really looking forward to performing as a soloist with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in 2019.


You recently performed at MONA’s Dark Mofo in Tasmania with Brent Grapes. How was that? 

Brian Ritchie, the curator who was Bass guitarist with the Violent Femmes, really knows how to run a Festival and it is said that such has been the impact of Mona that this is a driving factor on the impact of Hobart house prices (rising exponentially at the moment). Brent is a fine player and person and I was very pleased to accompany him. The audience went pretty wild at the conclusion.


You’re originally from the UK. What brought you to Perth? 

The silver tongue of the former Dean of Perth, Dr John Shepherd. We are still firm friends and he is a truly great man. A visionary and intellectual of the highest order, he could disarm a hostile room instantly such is his personal panache, wit and style. 


You’ve performed at Perth Concert Hall a few times now. How would you describe the atmosphere at the venue? 

It’s always a pleasure. The PCH team are very warm, friendly and efficient and a great example of how a professional team can work well together. Perth Concert Hall itself simply has an acoustic to die for!


Tell us a bit about the repertoire you will be playing at Perth Concert Hall this October.

Bach Passacaglia is, for me, his greatest work for the organ. It’s so passionate and romantic, that new audiences tend to identify with it more easily than his more austere works. 

Next up is Franck’s sublime Prelude, Fugue and Variation. He was born in Belgium, but was for many years Organist at St Clotilde, Paris, having been defeated by Widor for the position of organist at St Sulpice. Such was the generosity of Franck as a person however, that he would run over from St Clotilde to hear Widor play and would send him warm messages re his playing. It is documented however that Widor was allegedly not quite so kind to Franck re his compositional abilities stating that ‘Franck has never composed anything that surpasses his prowess as an improviser’. I would have to beg to differ with Widor on this matter, as I don’t think Widor has written a bel canto organ work that matches the sheer beauty of Franck’s masterpiece. Prelude, Fugue and Variation. The RH Hautbois melody (which should be coupled to a recit flute) lingers in the mind, followed by a solid Bachian fugue and a variation that sees the original melody return with a running water song without words accompaniment in the style of Mendelssohn.


What should people expect from the performance?

I hope to garner the usual reaction in that people leave surprised and exhilarated that they enjoyed an organ concert!


Joseph joins us at Perth Concert Hall on Wed 17 Oct, 11am.
Secure your tickets at or call our Box Office on (08) 9231 9999.

Want to read more from Joseph about the organ and its repertoire? Click here.