Organist hopes dream will rise from the ashes

A national prize for her contribution to music means organist Zorada Temmingh has one big ambition left: to play the organ in Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral when it is restored after this year’s devastating fire.

Zorada, who brings her ground-breaking performance inspired by the Cathedral to Buxton International Festival in July, received the Andrew Murray Federation of Afrikaans Culture (FAK) last week for her contribution to sacred music.

The award is only given in her native South Africa every five years, and the 59-year-old who began playing the organ in church as a child to raise money for a grand piano, was moved that sacred music was once again receiving the recognition that it deserved.

“Sacred music is a dwindling musical style,” said Zorada who grew up amongst church organists.

Dr Danie Langner, managing director of FAK, described Zorada as one of South Africa’s most pre-eminent church organists and organ improvisers.

She is best known for her innovative soundtrack improvisations for the silent movies The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and The Phantom of the Opera. She was the first South African to practice this art form.

Her biggest dream is to play the organ in Notre Dame Cathedral, which she heard 15 years ago during a visit to Paris.

“I had just walked in when the organ started playing. Soft, deep notes, with a richness of timbre that rooted me to the spot,” she said.

“I had never heard anything like it, and suddenly became aware of the fact that my ancestors hailed from France, and that I actually felt a sense of belonging there. Ever since then it has been my dream to play on the organ of the Notre Dame, to do Hunchback there. I might have to wait some time.”

Zorada will use improvised organ music to add a new dimension to the 1923 silent film The Hunchback of Notre Dame when it is shown in Buxton’s parish church as part of the Festival in July.

Victor Hugo’s book, Notre Dame de Paris (1829-1831), was in part intended to spur the French authorities of the day to restore the dilapidated cathedral to its former glory.

 l Zorada Temmingh: Improvised Organ Recital accompaniment to the 1923 silent film of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, July 7, St John’s Church, Buxton. For more details go to

For further details please email John Phillips at or visit

Visit for more information or telephone 01298 70395.

About Buxton International Festival

Buxton International Festival is one of the UK’s leading arts events taking place in July each year; a cultural celebration of the very best opera, music and literature taking place in the beautiful Peak District. The Festival features the most promising rising stars in the arts world, as well as prominent international singers, artists and literary figures performing in a packed summer programme of in excess of 120 events over a 17-day period to an audience of over 30,000.

The Festival produces three operas alongside a series of concerts given by many leading British and international musicians, and a literary series featuring leading writers and thinkers. Festival venues include the exquisite Matcham-designed Buxton Opera House, St John’s Church and the Pavilion Arts Centre. Together with the Buxton Festival Fringe, the spa town is a haven for arts enthusiasts throughout July each year. The Festival also presents an annual autumn Book Weekend and Outreach Programme.

Buxton International Festival has been presented annually since 1979. The brainchild of Malcolm Fraser, the Head of Opera at the Royal Northern College of Music, who had a vision of making the dilapidated Buxton Opera House, which had been used as a cinema for most of its life, into the home of an annual opera festival. With the help of Welsh National Opera conductor, Anthony Hose, he set about making his dream a reality. The Artistic Director is Adrian Kelly.

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