Carlo Curley, saviour of Melbourne Town Hall organ, has died

The "Pavarotti of the organ" was the "catalyst" for the restoration of Melbourne's fine instrument.

Concert organist Carlo Curley has died in England at the age of 59. No cause of death has been made public.

Curley was born into a musical North Carolina family in 1952. The precocious organist accepted his first professional post at the age of 15, began touring the USA at 17 and the following year became Director of Music at Girard College, Philadelphia.

He studied under two of the greatest organists of the 20th century: Virgil Fox and, in London, Sir George Thalben-Ball. Early in his career, he was invited by the President to play at the White House, becoming the first classical organist to give a solo organ recital there. Recording primarily for Decca, he enjoyed an international reputation for his elegant performances, sense of humour and defiance of concert convention.

Curley was a frequent visitor to Australia, particularly in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when he championed the restoration of the Melbourne Town Hall organ. June Nixon, organist at St Paul's Cathedral in Melbourne, recalls that Curley "did a concert on the organ at Hamer Hall, and had some very outspoken opinions about it.

"What he found at the Town Hall was an organ that was very much ripe for restoration and he said, ‘This would be brilliant if we could have it restored; it would be one of the finest organs.' He started off the interest in restoring the Town Hall organ, and did a lot of work initially. He was the catalyst for it. He returned to Melbourne after the restoration and was very happy with what had been done." 

Nixon also praised Curley's "hugely generous" spirit: in 1990, when Melbourne's St Paul's Cathedral organ was refurbished, he took part in its opening concert and donated his fee towards the cost of the restoration.

Curley even appeared on the Australian variety television show Hey, Hey, It's Saturday!, donning a vampire cape in a performance of Bach's Toccata in D Minor. "He was an organist who was an entertainer," Nixon affirmed. "He was not a dry, academic organist at all. He did a lot of good for the organ world, brought a lot of audiences in. He was a very colourful character, larger than life."

Curley's approach to the organ and his public paved the way for younger generation of performers including Cameron Carpenter, who describes him as "one of the first true advocates, and actively artistic proponents, of the digital organ and its importance both on the world stage and to the artistic independence of organists.

"In not taking the bandwagon view of the pipe organ as ultimately superior, he was and remains many decades ahead of most of his colleagues, to say nothing of his playing," he told Limelight.

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Carlo Curley, saviour of Melbourne Town Hall organ, has died
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