The Classical Station’s interview with Ben Sheen for Preview!
Interview with Ben Sheen
by Bethany Tillerson (photo credit: © Gino Demeer @ bensheen.com)
Naomi Lambert interviewed British organist Benjamin Sheen, whose new album, ‘In London Town’ was released in September. Throughout his productive career, Sheen has worked at St. Paul’s Cathedral, St. Thomas Church, and Christ Church Cathedral, and he was recently appointed as the Director of Music at Jesus College, Cambridge, a post he’ll be taking in 2023. While his album, ‘In London Town’, is a collection of British pieces, Sheen returned to his former workplace in the United States to record them on the 2018 Miller-Scott Organ in St. Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue.
SHEEN: When I was asked to make this recording, I wanted to record music that is very close to my heart, and I had a blank canvas on which to put whatever I wanted. What I tried to do is put together a program of music that I was really passionate about, but also include a contrast of works–those that are somewhat known to organists or musicians and then something new. The Cockaigne Overture was the centerpiece of the album, and I based the album around this idea of being in London Town–works from Great Britain and music from coronations and royal events and well-known classic pieces in the organ repertoire. It was a chance for me to record some of the music that I love, but also to include works that have rarely been heard on the organ. Also, it brought a new audience to this music of people who don’t necessarily listen to music or come across organ music in their day-to-day life.
When asked about his favorite work on the album, Sheen pointed to the Cockaigne Overture.
SHEEN: It was a daunting piece to learn, and it took one and a half nights to record, being 17 minutes long. What is so effortless about orchestral music is the range of dynamics that can be achieved so quickly. It takes a lot of work to figure out the combination of sounds, crescendos, and decrescendos. Working those out and making them as seamless as possible can take a lot of time. It’s such a wonderful piece, and it’s a piece that I’ve known in its orchestral form for many years. It was a great challenge, but I hope that the finished product reflects the magnificence of the instrument. I think it very much reflects the hustle and bustle of London Town and the character of that disc as well.
After Naomi Lambert mentioned the beauty and relative obscurity of ‘Alleluia’ by Simon Preston, also featured on the album, Sheen explained what that piece meant to him.
SHEEN: That’s a piece that I’ve played for many years. I actually studied it with Simon Preston when I was 15 years old. He was the organist of Christchurch Cathedral in Oxford, where I’m working now. He was a wonderful organist and choir master. He wrote this piece and it has a wonderful improvisatory style and a playful nature with wonderfully colorful harmonies. There’s something so attractive about the beginning and the different colors through the middle and the softer sounds of the strings. It’s a really wonderful piece of music, I think.
This interview aired on Sunday, November 6th. Preview! premieres every Sunday at 7 p.m. eastern. Download the WCPE The Classical Station app, listen online, or turn your radio to 89.7 FM to catch full interviews!