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A History of Orgues Létourneau

Fernand Létourneau, the voicer

Orgues Létourneau was founded by Fernand Létourneau in January 1979. The company’s first instrument, a six-stop practice organ, was constructed in the basement of the Létourneau family home in Ste-Rosalie, Québec. Contracts soon followed for new instruments in Australia and in Canada, as well as a new pipe organ for Christ Church Vienna in Austria, the company’s Opus 10.

Opus 27 was the first Létourneau heard in the United States in 1990 and this instrument now resides in a studio at the University of Michigan. Interest in this 13-stop organ resulted in contracts for new pipe organs in Michigan, Virginia, and Texas and the Létourneau company grew quickly over the following decade. During this time, mechanical action organs were built for St. Paul’s Collegiate School in Hamilton, New Zealand (Opus 31) and the Damon Wells Chapel at Pembroke College, Oxford, England (Opus 43). In 1998, the Létourneau company completed Opus 58 at St. Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral in Sydney, Australia, with this instrument incorporating more than 30 stops from the Cathedral’s 1866 organ by William Hill.

The Létourneau team with Opus 43 in 1995.

More than sixty Létourneau organs had been built at the beginning of the 21st century, including Opus 64 at St. Mary’s Catholic Cathedral in Sydney, Australia and Opus 70 in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula at H. M. Tower of London in England. In 2001, the company completed its Opus 73 and Opus 74, together comprising 123 ranks, for the grand sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. Two instruments for concert halls were commissioned shortly thereafter: The first, Opus 60, resides at the front of the 430-seat Legacy Hall at the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts in Columbus, Georgia.  The second, the Davis Concert Organ (Opus 50), is in the Francis Winspear Centre for Music’s Concert Hall in Edmonton, Alberta and is Canada’s largest pipe organ in a concert hall with 122 ranks.

Létourneau exported its Opus 95 to England for installation in the Chapel of Selwyn College at the University of Cambridge in 2005. One year later, Opus 97 was finished at the Episcopal Church of St. John the Divine in Houston, Texas; it remains the largest Létourneau to date with 144 ranks.

The company’s Opus 118 for the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, California was completed in 2010 with a total of 90 ranks. Other significant Létourneaus from this period include Opus 107 for Christ Church United Methodist in Louisville, Kentucky and Opus 96 for Christ Episcopal Church in Bradenton, Florida.

From left to right, David Dini (headmaster),
Fernand Létourneau, David Heller (concert organist) and Andrew Forrest at St. Mark’s School of Texas.

In 2014, Létourneau’s Opus 127 was completed for the prestigious St. Mark’s School of Texas in Dallas where the instrument supports daily chapel services as well as monthly choral evensongs. Létourneau installed its Opus 128 in New York City later that same year at the Church of St. Joseph in Greenwich Village.

Between 2016 and 2018, the company completed two distinct instruments in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The first, Létourneau’s Opus 129, was built for First Presbyterian Church and blends 75 ranks of pipework from E.M. Skinner, Aeolian, Casavant, and Létourneau for a complex and thrilling result. The second, our Opus 132, is installed at Christ Episcopal Church and contrasts handsomely with its neighbour, thanks to a strict focus on liturgical accompanying. This 35-rank instrument offers smooth foundations, elegant solo voices, and choruses in all families of organ tone.

A new chapter in Létourneau’s management began in November 2019 with the company’s founder, Fernand Létourneau, naming Dr. Dudley Oakes as the new President and Owner. Dr. Oakes’ first appointment was to promote the company’s Artistic Director, Andrew Forrest, to the post of Vice President. Under their leadership, the company is working to perfect what it already does as well as making strategic improvements to Létourneau instruments and the Létourneau team. As Dr. Oakes remarked, “Our pipe organs need to reflect our best work, whether that work comes from our minds, our hands, or our hearts. We love what we do and we need those who experience Létourneau instruments to feel that.”

Restorations and reconstructions of existing pipe organs make up an important part of Létourneau’s work. 2015 saw the completion of a comprehensive restoration of the sanctuary organ at the Basilica-Cathedral of Notre Dame in Québec City, Québec. Casavant Frère’s Opus 1049 from 1924, the organ’s two-manual console was thoroughly rebuilt and two new stops were added to the Gr-Orgue division. Létourneau likewise restored Aeolian-Skinner’s Opus 1257 at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina in 2009. This organ, completed in 1955, remains a fine example of G. Donald Harrison’s signature style. Other restoration projects in recent years include the 1968 Andover organ at Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey and the 1955 M.P. Möller instrument at Frederick Presbyterian Church of Frederick, Maryland. In Québec, the pipe organs at Église St-Roch in St-Roch-de-Richelieu, the Anglican Parish of St. Andrew and St. Mark’s in Dorval, and St. James United Church in Montréal have all been thoroughly restored by Létourneau.