Things to do  |  25 May 2022

A special free concert at the Christchurch Town Hall on Queen’s Birthday Monday will celebrate several special occasions.

It will be 25 years since the Austrian-built Rieger organ was first opened and marks 25 years of service from the Town Hall’s eminent organist Martin Setchell.

In addition, the 2022 Organ Curator’s Concert joins a weekend of celebrations across the world in honour of Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee, as she becomes the first British monarch to complete 70 years of service. Mayor Lianne Dalziel will be speaking before the concert.

Mr Setchell says the programme will include a special arrangement of Handel’s famous Coronation Anthem ‘Zadok the Priest.'

“I’ve also included two popular works by the great French composer Cesar Franck, to mark his birth 200 years ago in 1822. As a European organ the Rieger’s tonal colours do lend themselves to the French and German organ repertoire.”

Part of the fabric of the Town Hall

It was a day of “absolute joy and enthusiasm” when the organ was first opened 25 years ago, says Mr Setchell. 

“A team of six people took two months to assemble it in place and it then took three weeks to voice and fine-tune it in May 1997. Often the team had to work at night for silence and to allow the normal use of the space in the day.

“This organ was designed and built specifically for the unique properties of our Town Hall so it ‘completed’ the acoustic of the building and is literally an inseparable part of the whole structure. The sound it produces is brilliant, clear and clean. I shudder to think what might have happened had the auditorium been bowled after the earthquakes!”

Representatives from Rieger were in the Town Hall completing a five-week project to add 12 new ranks of pipes to the organ and to upgrade its electronic memory when the magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck on 22 February 2011.

The organ suffered only minor damage in the quake but because of the damage to the Town Hall it took eight years before it could be played again.

Mr Setchell says playing the organ is not for the faint hearted.

“It involves the whole body and requires perfect coordination of mind, hands and feet. Now I’m no longer teaching full-time at the University of Canterbury I aim for two to three hours of practice every day.”

After a quarter of a century as organ curator he has “absolutely no plans to retire” and is looking forward to the next 25 years.

The concert will take place at the Christchurch Town Hall on Monday 6 June at 2pm. Entry is free but online registration is required via the organ website at