The commanding presence at the head of the stage in the Concert Hall is Kyoto Concert Hall’s 90-stop pipe organ, built by eminent German organ builders Johannes Klais Orgelbau GmbH & Co. KG. A pump sucks air into the organ, and the organist uses the instrument’s four manuals and pedal-board to manipulate its flow at will – and mere air is suddenly transformed into a grand and opulent tapestry of living sound.
The pipe organ traces its roots to ancient Rome, where it provided music for imperial court rituals, and thence to the Christian church, which incorporated its use into religious services and developed it further; and now this majestic instrument has found its way to Kyoto – Japan’s capital for a thousand years. Breathing deeply of the Kyoto air, it exhales to sound the swelling, sonorous tones that perhaps only Japan’s historic capital could produce.
The Pipe Organ
The pipe organ is an ancient instrument, with its origins dating to the third century BC. What could be called the original form of the organ is said to have been produced in this era. Since its inception it has slowly established a reputation as an instrument closely tied to religion, which developed to a point where, by the 13th century, practically every church built contained a pipe organ. The instrument is particularly well renowned in the West, often seen used at church services and gatherings.
Organ music was first introduced to Japan with Japan’s shift towards westernization in the 19th century. While the pipe organ remained a somewhat rare instrument at the time, this began to change in the 70s and 80s. The expansion of cultural facilities led to the birth of music halls all over Japan, and with this the pipe organ also became a familiar sight. Today uniquely designed pipe organs can be seen in pretty much any major hall or performing theater in Japan, in many ways making the instrument an invaluable part of Japan’s classical music scene.
While at first glance the principles upon which the pipe organ produces sound appears extremely complex, it is actually relatively simple. First, air is sent from the blower part installed on the side of the organ to what is called a “wind chest”. Pressing each key opens a valve on the wind chest sending air to the pipe and producing a sound. The pipe organ acts on a similar principle to how we blow into a flute to play a sound.
Pipes used in a pipe organ can be broadly broken up into two main categories based on the sound-producing mechanism used.
One is a “flue pipe,” where the pipe itself reverberates like a recorder, and the other is a “reed pipe,” where a reed vibrates like a clarinet. Each pipe has variations in tone, with a name attached to each pipe.
Organists produce a unique musical tapestry through a combination of thousands of varying pipes. You could say they resemble a “painter,” mixing together various paints to produce a single color.
The “Principal” pipe class, which makes up the majority of “flue pipes,” is, as the name suggests, a class of metal pipe that serves as the core component in an organ. The large pipes seen at the front of the instrument are principal pipes, and these are responsible for producing the resplendent sounds that organs are often known for.
Pipes come in a great many variations, and the tones they produce differ not only due to the materials used, but also their thickness, length and shape. Each pipe is given an instrument name based on the type of tone they produce. Several examples include the “flute”, “roll flute (which produces a tone similar to that of a recorder)” and the “viola da gamba (a type of stringed instrument)”.
(Example) Principal class, flute, viola da gamba
A famous stop of the “reed pipe” is the bright “trumpet” class, which is often used to vary the character, tone or volume of a piece. Ensemble performances introduce trumpet class pipes to produce compositions that resemble that of an orchestra.
(Example) Trumpets, trombones, clarinets, oboes, bassoons, crumhorns (pipes reproducing the sound of the woodwind instrument, the crumhorn, used in the baroque period)
Pipe organ at the Kyoto Concert Hall
The pipe hall at the Kyoto Concert Hall is located on the right when seen from audience seating to the rear of the stage. The reason for this coincides with the Hall’s design, and is said to help “alleviate issues with sound centricity” and facilitate an “asymmetry in orchestra sound sources”.
Pipes belonging to the manual are located at the center of the Hall, and the pipes belonging to the pedalboard are located on the right side.
Famed German builder
The position of the organ in the Kyoto Concert Hall is located on the right when seen from audience seating to the rear of the stage out of consideration for the Hall’s design. Pipes belonging to the manual are located at the center of the Hall, and the pipes belonging to the pedalboard are located on the right side.
The pipe organ in the Kyoto Concert Hall is an instrument produced by the famous German organ builder, “Orgelbau Klais”. Since its founding in 1882 by organ builder Johannes Klais (1852–1925), Orgelbau Klais has produced a wide range of pipe organs seen all over the world, from Europe and the U.S., to Asia and Oceania.
Halls and cathedrals where a Orgelbau Klais organ can be seen
Kölner Philharmonie, Cologne Cathedral, the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, the Gasteig in Munich, the Birmingham Symphony Hall, the Krakow Philharmonic Hall, the Kanagawa Kenmin Hall, etc.
Orgelbau Klais official website
One of the largest pipe organs in Japan, with 90 stops and over 7,000 pipes
The reason that the pipe organ in the Kyoto Concert Hall produces such powerful sounds is because of the sheer number of stops (number of tones) the organ has. With 90 stops combining both German and French pipe ranks, the pipe organ in the Kyoto Concert Hall is capable of producing expressive musical compositions of a level of richness not readily seen anywhere in the world.
Tones produced through the rare fusion of four Japanese instrumental sounds
In addition to the abovementioned German and French pipes, the pipe organ also comes equipped with pipes that produce sounds from Japanese instruments such as the Shakuhachi, the Sho, the Hichiriki, and the Shino flute. The pipe organ is capable of producing the sounds of Japanese music, making it possible to “Japan and the West” as per the conceptual theme for the Kyoto Concert Hall.
Stop list (disposition)
Listen to the sounds of the Kyoto Concert Hall pipe organ
From the “Omron Pipe Organ Concert Series Vol. 60 (Sep. 16, 2017)”
♪Nicolas de Grigny: Hymn (Veni Creator) No. 1 “Five-part cantus firmus composition in tenor range ’Veni Creator’”
♪Louis Vierne：(Morceaux de fantaisie) - (Westminster Bells) op.54-6
［Performance］François Espinasse (Organist of the Royal Chapel in the Palace of Versailles)
Studying the organ under Xavier Darasse at the Conservatoire à rayonnement régional de Toulouse, François Espinasse graduated in 1980 with the Premier Prix (1st prize). He furthered his studies under André Isoir the following year. Currently he is an organist at the Paroisse de Saint-Séverin in Paris while teaching students as an organ teacher at the Conservatoire national supérieur musique de Lyon. He also serves as a member of the Landmarks Preservation Commission (organ section) and, in 2010, was appointed as one of the four organists of the Royal Chapel in the Palace of Versailles. He has toured some 20 countries as both a concert organist and a master class professor.
Total no. of stops
Total no. of pipes
2 (4-level manual, pedalboard)
Orgelbau Klais （Bonn, Germany）
Johannes Klais Orgelbau
Orgelbau Klais, Yamaha Corporation
Pipe organs can use two different performing platforms depending on the style of the piece. One is known as a “tracker action type”, which is installed directly to the organ itself. The other is known as a “remote action type”, which is set up on the stage. The “remote action” mechanism works by sending an electric signal to the organ to produce sounds.
1st organ platform (4-level manual, pedalboard)
・Mechanical key action
・Electric stop action
2nd organ platform (4-level manual, pedalboard)
・Electric key action
・Electric stop action
Manual No. I Grand Choeur C-c4 61 keys Positif C-c4 61 keys Manual No. II Grand Orgue C-c4 61 keys Hauptwerk C-c4 61 keys Manual No. III Récit Expressif C-c4 61 keys Manual No. IV Schwellwerk C-c4 61 keys Pedalboard Pedalwerk C-g1 32 keys
Performance assistance features
Coupler：Links manuals to allow the performer to play notes on other manuals when pressing a key on a single manual.
III/I IV/I I/II III/II IV/II
I/II Sub. III/II Sub. IV/III IV/IV Sub.
I/Ped. II/Ped. III/Ped. IV/Ped.
Tremolo：Stirs the air blown to produce a tremolo (vibrato) effect.
Positif（I） Recit Expressif（III）Schwellwerk（IV）
Swell box:This functions by opening and closing the shutters on the swell box using the foot pedals to adjust the volume of sound produced.
Crescendo pedals(two types: standard/free selection):This functions by varying the number of stops using pedals to produce a crescendo.
Sequencer：This functions by advancing or regressing on a registered stop changes (combination of stops) with the press of a button.
Group (1-16) × Combination (A-H) = 128 sets
Two air blower systems
Modern organs seen in regular concert halls send air from a fan into an air container and kept at a level pressure before being sent to the various pipes in the pipe organ. Conversely, traditional organs used in the West are built to contain multiple large bellows which alternate between inflating and blowing out air based on the air volume in use.
The pipe organ in the Kyoto Concert Hall incorporates both air blower systems into its design, which can be alternated between when using Manual No. 1 and 2. The variation in the timbre of the instrument this system produces greatly expands the potential scope for musical expression.
（I,Positif II,Hauptwerk/Grand Orgue）
Normal wind Schwimmer
Amendment wind 4 Keilbaelge
German Stops are written in Red, French Stops are written in Black and Japanese Stops are written in Green.
- Schwellwerk (Manual IV) 15 Stops C-c4 61Notes
Pitch Pipes 1 Quintatön 16' 61 2 Geigenprincipal 8' 61 3 Flauto amabile 8' 61 4 Liebl.Gedackt 8' 61 5 Salicional 8' 61 6 Unda maris 8' 49 7 Fugara 4' 61 8 Flauto minor 4' 61 9 Shinobue 4' 61 10 Nasat 2 2/3' 61 11 Piccolo 2' 61 12 Terz 1 3/5' 61 13 Sifflöte 1' 61 14 Mixtur III 183 15 Hichiriki 8' 61 16 Tremulant 1,025 Pipes 17 IV-IVSub
- Récit Expressif (Manual III) 17 Stops C-c4 61Notes
Pitch Pipes 18 Bourdon 16' 61 19 Diapason 8' 61 20 Flûte traversière 8' 61 21 Cor de nuit 8' 61 22 Viole de Gamba 8' 61 23 Voix celéste 8' 49 24 Octave 4' 61 25 Flûte octaviante 4' 61 26 Shakuhachi 8' 40 27 Octavin 2' 61 28 Cornet V 210 29 Plein jeu harm. II-V 233 30 Basson 16' 61 31 Tromp.harm. 8' 66 32 Basson Hautbois 8' 66 33 Voix humaine 8' 66 34 Clairon harm. 4' 95 35 Tremulant 1,374 Pipes 36 IV-III
- Grand Orgue (Manual II) 13 Stops C-c4 61Notes
Pitch Pipes 37 Montre 16' 61 38 Bourdon 16' 61 39 Montre 8' 61 40 Flûte 8' 61 41 Préstant 4' 61 42 Flûte 4' 61 43 Grande Tierce 3 1/5' 61 44 Quinte 2 2/3' 61 45 Quarte 2' 61 46 Tierce 1 3/5' 61 47 Grande Fourniture II 122 48 Fourniture IV 244 49 Cymbale IV 244 1,220 Pipes
- Hauptwerk (Manual II) 7 Stops C-c4 61Notes
Pitch Pipes 50 Principal 8' 61 51 Octave 4' 61 52 Superoctave 2' 61 53 Mixtur IV-VI 305 54 Scharff V 305 55 Fagott 16' 61 56 Trompete 8' 66 57 I-II 920 Pipes 58 III-II 59 IV-II 60 I-IISub 61 III-IISub
- Grand Choeur (Manual I) 6 Stops C-c4 61Notes
Pitch Pipes 62 Flûte harm. 8' 61 63 Grand Cornet V 185 64 Bombarde 16' 61 65 Trompette 8' 66 66 Sho 8' 36 67 Clairon 4' 95 504 Pipes
- Positif (Manual I) 15 Stops C-c4 61Notes
Pitch Pipes 68 Montre 8' 61 69 Quintadena 8' 61 70 Gedackt 8' 61 71 Prestant 4' 61 72 Principal 4' 61 73 Koppelflöte 4' 61 74 Spitzquinte 2 2/3' 61 75 Doublette 2' 61 76 Waldflöte 2' 61 77 Sifflöete 1 1/3' 61 78 Sesquialter II 122 79 Plein jeu V 305 80 Scharff IV 244 81 Trompette 8' 66 82 Cromorne 8' 61 1,408 Pipes 83 Tremulant 84 III-I 85 IV-I
- Pedal 17 Stops C-g1 32notes
Pitch Pipes 86 Flûte 32' 32 87 Untersatz 32' 32 88 Flûte 16' 32 89 Principal 16' 32 90 Soubasse 16' 32 91 Flûte 8' 32 92 Octavbass 8' 32 93 Octave 4' 32 94 Mixtur VI 192 95 Contra Bombarde 32' 32 96 Bombarde 16' 32 97 Posaune 16' 32 98 Fagott 16' 32 99 Trompette 8' 32 100 Trompete 8' 32 101 Clairon 4' 32 102 Schalmey 4' 32 704 Pipes 103 I-Ped 104 Ⅱ-Ped 105 III-Ped 106 IV-Ped
The Positive Organ
The Kyoto Concert Hall has another organ known as a “positive organ”. Opening up this small organ reveals the same basic structure as the pipe organ in the Main Hall, with over 200 pipes ordered systematically inside. While not bearing the same number of pipes as the main pipe organ, this still allows for changes in tone.
The great advantage of this instrument is its portability, enabling its use in both the Main Hall and Ensemble Hall Murata. This instrument is ideally suited to small-scale ensemble performances, and in particular compositions featuring basso continuo parts (an improvised accompaniment played in relation to a number written for the bass part) often seen in pieces from the baroque period.
54 keys C-f3 *No pedalboard
No. of stops
No. of pipes
Orgelbau Klais (Bonn, Germany/1996)
Orgelbau Klais, Yamaha Corporation
Quinte 1 1/3’