Philip Sawyer

Organist, organ-teacher and continuo-player


18 West Savile Gardens

Edinburgh EH9 3AB

Scotland, UK


Tel: +44 (0)131 668 9400



Welcome to my web-site

Updated on Monday 19th August 2019


Recent concert

Sunday 14th July 2019 at 4.00pm

St Mary’s Parish Church, Haddington, East Lothian.

Organ recital on the instrument built by Lammermuir Pipe Organs.

To include music by JS Bach, Louis Marchand, François Couperin, Arvo Pärt, Dieterich Buxtehude, and the world première of The Trees Unfold by Judith Weir.



About me

I had my first professional organ lessons from George Miles at the Birmingham School of Music during my O-levels year at Halesowen Grammar School 1963-64.


My parents moved to south-east Essex, so I attended a secondary school in Basildon 1964-66, and was taught organ by FDL Penny, organist of St Mary’s Church, Prittlewell, Southend-on-Sea.


The two music teachers at my school in Basildon told me that I would not gain admission to the Royal College of Music (RCM) in London because I was “not good enough,” and that I stood no chance of obtaining an organ scholarship at the University of Cambridge because I had “not attended a private school.”

When I left school, I attended the RCM 1966-68; I studied organ with Douglas Guest (Organist and Master of the Choristers at Westminster Abbey) and piano with Alan Rowlands. I then studied at the University of Cambridge 1968-71, where I read Music and was Bernard Hale Organ Scholar of Peterhouse.


In 1970 I was awarded a Leaf Studentship by Peterhouse and a Boris Ord Travel Scholarship by the university’s Faculty of Music to fund a series of organ lessons in Amsterdam and Haarlem (NL) with Piet Kee. I attended the Haarlem Summer Academy for Organists in 1971 & 1972, and played in the final concert in each year.


A six-month French Government scholarship enabled me to study French Classical organ music with René Saorgin at the Nice Conservatoire (F) 1973-4.  In early 1974 René Saorgin undertook a month-long recital tour of the USA; in his absence, a student from Tokyo and I were taught by Pierre Cochereau, the Director of the Conservatoire.


After a term’s teaching in the music department of the Colchester Institute, I moved to Edinburgh at the beginning of 1975 to take up the post of Organist and Choirmaster of the Parish Church of St Cuthbert; at the same time, I became a part-time lecturer in the music department at what was to become Napier Polytechnic of Edinburgh.  By 1978 I needed more experience as a choir director, so moved to Nicolson Square Methodist Church, which had one of the best church choirs in Edinburgh. The opportunity to be involved in the design of the new organ by the Wells-Kennedy Partnership then took me to the Parish Church of St Andrew and St George, where I was Director of Music.


Between 1983 and 1986 I studied part-time for the degree of MMus at the University of Edinburgh; I had the good fortune to be taught by the Bach scholar Peter Williams for two of the three courses that I took.


I was appointed Head of the Department of Music at Napier Polytechnic in the summer of 1987.  In 1992 Napier Polytechnic became Napier University; my colleagues and I developed a new and successful Bmus(Hons) course, as well as an innovative Mmus course in Jazz. In 1996 the department was moved to a splendid purpose-converted music school on the University’s Craighouse campus.


I stood down as Head of Department in 1999 and took very early retirement in 2000 in order to devote more time to performance. I celebrated by attending the 2000 Summer Academy for Organists in Haarlem (NL).  In the week following the end of the Summer Academy, I gave one of the Haarlem municipal organ recitals.

I was invited back two years later.


From 1999 until 2003 I was Director of Music at St Mary’s Parish Church, Haddington, where I had the privilege of playing and recording the fine instrument by Lammermuir Pipe Organs, the company owned by Neil Richerby. The same company built a wonderful organ for my studio at home where I can practise and teach. (Opus 12 & Opus 55 at


Organ recitals

I have given recitals in many places, including: Westminster Abbey & Westminster Cathedral (London, UK); York Minster (UK); Chester Cathedral (UK); St Laurens’ Church, Alkmaar (NL); St Bavo’s Church and St Bavo’s RC Cathedral, Haarlem (NL); the Westerkerk & the English Reformed Church, Amsterdam (NL); de Boom RC Church, Sloterdijk (NL); Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris (F); the Cathedrals of Monaco & Nice (F); the Church of Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens, L’Escarène (F); the Cathedral of Alcalá de Henares (E); the Lutheran Cathedral in Tallinn (Estonia); the Universities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrew’s in Scotland.


In Japan I have played in the church in Oiwake, Karuizawa (three times), in the Osawa private auditorium, Karuizawa (three times), in the Reinanzaka Church, Tokyo, and in the Bancho Church in Tokyo. In 2004 I gave a lecture-recital in Tokyo for the Organ Society of Japan. I commissioned the Edinburgh-based Shiori Usui ( to compose Colours in White for my 2010 visit to Japan, where I played the piece in three recitals. I was the first person to perform Shiori’s music in her home country, and have since performed Colours in White in Amsterdam (NL) and in Dunblane (UK).


The music of Buxtehude, JS Bach, their predecessors & contemporaries forms a major part of my repertoire.

I enjoy playing Classical French music (especially that of Nicolas de Grigny), the music of Mendelssohn, Franck and Messiaen, and more contemporary pieces (see below). The music of Piet Kee is a special favourite; I have played the Four Manual Pieces (and broadcast these on BBC Radio 3), BIOS and Voluntary on HSAE

(all three works are published by Bärenreiter), and taken part in several performances of Network, of which one was in St Bavo’s Church, Haarlem, another in St Laurens’ Church, Rotterdam.




I do a lot of continuo-playing, both on organ and on harpsichord. Whenever possible I play from figured bass, enjoying the freedom that this gives. I have worked with the Scottish Baroque Ensemble, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Banquet of Music and Sospiro Baroque.



Harpsichordist with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Gibson on an ASV LP/cassette of music by Handel. Issued in 1983.

Parts of this recording were re-issued on Brilliant Classics CD 99264.


Solo organist on a CD of organ music and unaccompanied choral music (performed by Consort of Voices) recorded in St Mary’s Parish Church, Haddington. Issued in 2002 (Delphian DCD34702).


Harpsichordist and fortepianist on the CD The Art of Robert Burns, recorded in Rosslyn Chapel.  Issued in 2003 (Scotstoun Music).


Solo organ recitals for BBC Scotland and BBC Radio 3.

These included the first broadcast performances of John McLeod’s The Seven Sacraments of Poussin, Alan Ridout’s Three Nativity Dances and Michael Barlow’s Intrada.



Commissions and first performances

An important part of my work as an organist has been the commissioning and/or the performance of the following

pieces, in alphabetic order of composer, for solo organ and for flute & organ:


Michael BARLOW: Intrada

For a recital in Westminster Abbey.

Published by Oecumuse.


Leon COATES: Suite for flute and organ

For the Edinburgh Organ Week.

The flautist was Sheila Cochrane.

Published by Europa Edition Ltd of Edinburgh.


Neil COURTNEY: Metamorphoses

For a recital in Westminster Abbey.


Julia CRAIG-McFEELY: Missa Brevis for organ, baritone and choir.

For the Edinburgh Organ Week.


David JOHNSON: Partita on ‘Christe qui lux es et dies’

For the Edinburgh Organ Week.


Jessica HUI: Theme and variations

First performed during a concert in the church of

St Michael and All Saints, Edinburgh, November 2016.


Jessica HUI: Reanimation for flute and organ.

For an Edinburgh Fringe Festival concert 2017.

The flautist was Elaine McPherson.


Richard JONES: Toccata

My first commission!

First performed at a local RSCM choir festival in

St Martin’s Parish Church, Basildon, Essex.



Commissioned by my wife, Anne McAlister,

for an Edinburgh Fringe Festival concert.

To be published Arts Publishing, Japan.


Piet KEE: Voluntary on HSAE

Commissioned by my wife, Anne McAlister,

for an Edinburgh Fringe Festival concert.

Published by Bärenreiter.


Ilari LAAKSO: As I remember it…. Fantasy for flute and organ

For an Edinburgh Fringe Festival concert.

The flautist was Andrea Kuypers.

Published by Music Finland


Ilari LAAKSO: Towards the Light

Commissioned by my wife, Anne McAlister,

for performance during Advent 2015.

Published by Music Finland


James MacMILLAN: Meditation

Commissioned by Anne McAlister

for an Edinburgh Fringe Festival concert.

Published by Boosey and Hawkes.


Edward McGUIRE: Dialogue of Flute and Organ

For an Edinburgh Fringe Festival concert.

The flautist was Andrea Kuypers.


John McLEOD: The Water of the Spirit

For the Edinburgh Organ Week.


John McLEOD: The Stigmata of St Francis

For a recital in Westminster Cathedral.


John McLEOD: The Seven Sacraments of Poussin

For a series of three concerts in:

·       Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh (live broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland);

·       Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow;

·       Westminster Cathedral, London.

Published by Griffin Music.


Tarik O’REGAN: Fallen Words

Commissioned by Anne McAlister for

two concerts in Amsterdam, June 2013.

Published by Novello.


Jan PETERSON: Drone, Hymn and Complement

For the Edinburgh Organ Week.


Jan PETERSON: Beyond the Orgelbüchlein

For a Scottish Chamber Choir concert in Edinburgh.


Alan RIDOUT: Three Nativity Dances

For a recital in Peterhouse Chapel during the

Cambridge Festival 1971.

Copies are available from me.


Jake SPENCE: Melancholia for flute and organ

For an Edinburgh Fringe Festival concert.

The flautist was Andrea Kuypers.


Martin SUCKLING: Rorate coeli (2017)

Commissioned by Anne McAlister.

Awaiting first performance.

To be published by Faber Music.


Shiori USUI: Colours in White

For a series of concerts in Karuizawa & Tokyo (J).


Shiori USUI: Mumbling through Stethoscope for flute and organ

For an Edinburgh Fringe Festival concert.

The flautist was Louisa Gard.


Judtih WEIR: The Trees Unfold (2018)

Commissioned by Anne McAlister.

First performance in St Mary’s Church, Haddington, on 14 July 2019.

Published by Chester Music.



What the critics wrote


The Netherlands

‘….. Philip Sawyer is an accomplished professional. His playing is confident, articulated and full of rhythm.

You are able to hear this especially in the works of JS Bach ……

The public understood very well that here a passionate professional was speaking in musical terms ……’

(Rinus Groot, Haarlems Dagblad, 02 August 2000, translated EH)


‘Philip Sawyer appeared to be an immensely accurate organist and every rhythmic figure and ornament was “right”.

To this should be added a tasteful choice of registration and a well-studied interpretation that, all together,  made listening to this organist a fascinating affair. Chiefly the Bach chorale arrangement sounded marvellous and that was therefore, for me, the most important part of the concert [in St Laurens’ Church, Alkmaar].

However, the music by Buxtehude was played full of style and formed a good ending to this concert which attracted many listeners.’ 

(Newspaper music critic, Alkmaar, Netherlands; trans. PD)



Le triomphe de la délicatesse.

Philip Sawyer…..est un organiste habile et, qui mieux est, un fin rillian. Organiste habile, il est ril, par nature et par travail, d’une rilliantce des deux mains et des pieds qui lui permet d’atteindre à une remarquable souplesse de jeu. Fin rillian, il ne cherche pas à noyer ses auditeurs dans des flots sonores tonitruants, mais recherche l’utilisation de tous les jeux, de toutes les ressources rillian d’un instrument [Monaco Cathedral, 1989] qu’il y a toujours rillia à découvrir. Légèreté du pédalier, sureté et finesse expressive du chant et des traits et autres ornaments, Philip Sawyer nous a permet d’apprécier ces qualités d’autant mieux qu’il avait choisi son programme avec à-propos et bon ril.’

(Nice Matin)


‘…..une seconde partie consacrée à Bach: Philip Sawyer rapprocha de fort heureuse façon trois versions d’un même choral [Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland] et termina avec Prélude et Fugue en mi mineur [BWV548], il confirma ses qualités de technician, d’architecte aussi, d’indépendence totale des claviers et du pédalier, et cela avec un tel bonheur que le public [Nice Cathedral, 1989] témoigna sa sympathie et sa reconnaissance à Philip Sawyer qui l’en remercia avec deux “bis” parfaitement rilliant.’

(Nice Matin)


‘Philip Sawyer…..termina fort brillament son récital [Monaco Cathedral, 1995] par une pièce d’orgue intituléeFantaisie en sol majeur BWV572” de J-S Bach. Tout le long de cette pièce très rilliant, Philip Sawyer fit sortir de son orgue de très belles

couleurs musicales grace à une registration bien dosée. A l’extrème fin de cette oeuvre, il s’agissait carrément d’un feu d’artifice sonore qui déclencha l’ovation du public réuni à l’occasion de ce concert. (Nice Matin)


United Kingdom

‘Translating Poussin’s paintings The Seven Sacraments into music is a challenge which John McLeod has taken up with relish in his new organ work The Seven Sacraments of Poussin. Commissioned and performed for the first time with great panache by organist Philip Sawyer……’ (The Scotsman)


The Seven Sacraments of Poussin….Brilliantly played by Philip Sawyer, who commissioned the piece…….’ (The Glasgow Herald)


‘[John McLeod’s] new Sacraments were receiving their première, played powerfully by organist Philip Sawyer.’ (The Independent)


‘If music thrives on limitations, as Stravinsky thought, then the limitations of the tiny English organ in St Cecilia’s Hall, Edinburgh, should keep it healthy. With only a couple of ranks at his disposal, Philip Sawyer managed… give variety to a number

of pieces from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries…….’  (The Scotsman)


…..and though the Usher Hall organ had a more prominent role than usual, Philip Sawyer managed to make it behave like a chamber organ with a warbling, embellished continuo part.’ (The Scotsman)


‘The highlight of the programme was Bach’s Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor, a piece which illustrates Bach at the pinnacle of his organ writing and at his most diabolical. The Fugue was outstanding, particularly in the section where the voice goes to the pedals. The momentum never faltered while the light and playful tones pervaded the whole piece.’



Duo da Chiesa

Some years ago the flautist Louisa Gard and I formed Duo da Chiesa in order to explore the small but attractive repertoire of music for flute and organ. We commissioned Shiori Usui to write a new piece for us; the result was Mumbling through Stethoscope, a piece that challenged us both but that we found very satisfying to rehearse and perform. It was with much pleasure that we learned that one of Shiori’s orchestral compositions had been short-listed for the 2012 Takemitsu Prize Competition in Tokyo.


When Louisa left Scotland, I was joined by Andrea Kuypers (; since then Duo da Chiesa has commissioned the following:

·       As I remember it..... by Ilari Laakso (Rector of the Tampere Conservatoire in Finland);

·       Melancholia by Jake Spence;

·       Dialogue of flute and organ by Edward McGuire (

·       Reanimation by Jessica Hui. The flautist for the first performance was Elaine McPherson.


From time to time I work with singers, mainly to perform some of the wonderful music for soprano and organ by Hendrik Andriessen.




‘A Neglected Late 18th Century Organ Treatise’

Journal of the British Institute of Organ Studies 10 (1986), 76-87


‘The 1984 Wells-Kennedy organ in St Andrew’s and St George’s Parish Church, Edinburgh’ (with Christopher Gordon-Wells)

Journal of the British Institute of Organ Studies 11 (1987), 88-92


‘Possible Textural and Thematic References in JS Bach’s Fugue in E flat, BWV 552

Journal of the British Institute of Organ Studies 14 (1990), 10-15


‘New organs in and around Edinburgh’

Journal of the British Institute of Organ Studies 15 (1991), 120-21


‘The New Organ in Fairmilehead Parish Church, Edinburgh’

Journal of the British Institute of Organ Studies 15 (1991), 122-24


‘The New Organ in St Mary’s Collegiate Church, Haddington’

Journal of the British Institute of Organ Studies 15 (1991), 125-27



Classical Music 11 November 2006, 16-17


‘An interview with René Saorgin

Scottish Federation of Organists News July 2007

Organists’ Review August 2007


‘Piet Kee in conversation’

Scottish Federation of Organists News January 2008

Organists’ Review May 2008


‘The design of a small practice organ for a modern home’

Scottish Federation of Organists News July 2008


Olja Bučo in conversation

Scottish Federation of Organists News January 2009

Organists’ Review May 2009


‘Commissions, first performances, a birthday present and a suggestion’

Scottish Federation of Organists News January 2011


A Life with Music. Conrad Wilson in discussion with Philip Sawyer

Hardie Press, August 2018