Switzerland, Zurich

© pictures Orgelbau Kuhn AG, Männedorf/Schweiz

New concert hall organ for the Tonhalle in Zurich

We are proud to be able to build the new organ for the Tonhalle. We expect it to be completed in the autumn of 2020. Apart from one interruption of about 10 years, Kuhn Organ Builders will then have been a partner of the Tonhalle in Zurich ever since 1872.

Our principal wishes to have an organ that is suitable for both accompanied and solo performances with the Tonhalle orchestra and with visiting orchestras, soloists and choirs. In the case of solo performances, the organ should be capable of appropriately presenting the classical organ repertoire. Furthermore, the organ should be suited to the presentation of modern organ music, and speak with its own artistic voice. We believe broad tonal differentiation in the foundation stops is especially important if these goals are to be reached.


A variety of long-standing problems concerning the building space will have been resolved when the organ project is finished. The old ventilation system in the hall will be modified, thereby creating more room in the organ niche. The lower case of the front will be moved back up to the organ niche, thereby creating some long awaited additional room on the orchestra podium. Structurally, the organ will once again stand solely in the niche, merely reaching slightly out of the niche with the upper case of the front; this is considerably less than the preceding organs.

Specification and layout

Based on a design by Christian Schmitt (Stuttgart), with 74 to 80 stops the present specification has been developed in close cooperation between the organ consultants, Christian Schmitt, Martin Haselböck (Vienna), Peter Solomon (Zurich) and Kuhn Organ Builders Ltd. The great organ contrasts with the German Romantic orchestral division and a French inspired Récit. These two swell organs are situated in the ideal place, directly above the orchestra. The great organ is one level higher. The solo division is located behind the great organ. Compared with previously, additional room could be provided by the customer. The solo division is designed to be a "floating" division, i.e. playable on all keyboards.

The larger pedal ranks are positioned sideways and at the rear wall on the lower level, the smaller pedal ranks level with the great organ. The pedal organ comprises twelve stops and is completed by the orchestral pedal in a swell box with another seven stops. Altogether, the specification has 70 speaking stops, seven transmissions and two extensions. It is therefore of a similar size to the preceding organs.

The reed stops will be realized in German, French and English styles. The Aeoline 16 ' and the Clarinette 8 ' are free reeds. The "flauto turicensis", with its unique sound is Kuhn Organ Builders Ltd's own development. It is being built in Switzerland for the first time. The pipe mouth is circular (360°).
The specification published here shows the provisional stage of development as at 26 February 2018.


Following a detailed discussion, the expert committee decided on a three manual console. It is more compact than one with four manuals, and in orchestral operation enables better sight of the conductor.

Great concert organs are often equipped with a second, attached console in addition to the mobile console on the podium. Experience clearly shows that in practice the mobile console is almost without exception the one that is used. For this reason there will be no mechanical console. It is thanks to this decision that the lower case of the front can be moved backwards as planned.

Design of the front

The design of the front is currently in progress and is subordinate to the goal of restoration of the Tonhalle hall. At great cost this is being returned to its polychromatic state of 1895 (see the picture showing its condition at that time, which however does not correspond to the new design). The rules laid down for the protection of historic monuments indicate a historicizing design for the front. The height of the structure saved by removal of the mechanical action will give a wider view into the original organ niche.


Apart from the obvious musical aims, the new Tonhalle organ will solve other vital questions: the front of the organ will once more be logically fitted into the aesthetics of the room, the organ will have its own place in the organ niche, the orchestra gets more room on the podium, and the already excellent acoustics will be rendered even better. The preceding organ with Jean Guillou's remarkable specification has been dismantled and will find a new home in the cathedral of Koper, Slovenia. The decision to build a new organ in the Tonhalle will thus immediately make winners out of several interest groups.

26th February 2018

Picture 1: Condition of the hall in 1895, postcard, Tonhalle-Gesellschaft archive
Picture 2: Hall with orchestra, Tonhalle-Gesellschaft archive
Picture 3: Condition of the organ in 1927, Kuhn Organ Builders archive
Picture 4: Condition of the organ in 1939, Kuhn Organ Builders archive
Picture 5: Steinmeyer-Kleuker organ in 1988, Kuhn Organ Builders archive