Author Topic: Organist Paul Jacobs: intelligence, showmanship combine...  (Read 5072 times)

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Organist Paul Jacobs: intelligence, showmanship combine...
« on: October 29, 2011, 07:24:06 AM »


If a case can be made for re-crowning the pipe organ as the King of Instruments (a title bestowed by Guillaume Machaut in the 14th century), Paul Jacobs is the perfect candidate to make it.

The Juilliard professor, whose feats have included marathon performances of Messiaen's and Bach's complete organ works, was the first-ever organist to win a Grammy award. Last year he re-inaugurated the organ in Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center. In like fashion, on Sunday in Reid Chapel at Samford University he helped dedicate the recently renovated organ, an instrument named for the late Samford professor, Jane Slaughter Hardenbergh.

Jacobs is an enthusiastic musician, totally immersed in his art, eager to explore all sides of every piece -- and every instrument -- he plays. What he envisioned for Edward Elgar's Sonata in G major, Op. 28, was a work with distinct colors and transparent textures. The full-voiced majesty of the opening movement softened, in the Allegretto, into a gently rendered melody encased in subtle dynamic shades. A shapely melodic outlay on an oboe stop in the Andante blossomed into rhythmic momentum in the Presto finale.


Reid Chapel, Samford University
Five stars out of fiveź
The sonata sparked an unannounced test of the Hardenbergh organ with Elgar's familiar "Pomp and Circumstance" March No. 1. Not only did this showpiece fully reveal the instrument's variety of colors, it cast Jacobs in a bright light -- more entertainer than stodgy academic, a shining representative of a vibrant art form.

Florence Beatrice Price's Suite for Organ, a work that blends spirituals and danceable tunes in luscious harmonic settings, was an ideal vehicle for Jacobs' pristine clarity, a flurry of tinkling cymbals adding to the mix. John Weaver's "Fantasia for Organ," a clever pastiche of Bach allusions, dissonant staccato passages and jazz suggestions, drew from a broader American landscape.

Bach, of course, is at the heart of every organist's repertoire, and Bach is what Jacobs delivered in high fashion. Even in the relatively unceremonial Trio Sonata No. 4 in E minor, he played with controlled transparency and ornate flourishes, allowing a clear understanding of Bach's genius. An encore, Bach's Fugue in A minor from BWV 543, was more flamboyant, its wildly varying tempo shifts and intense buildup giving it a nearly theatrical feel. Unorthodox, perhaps, but it's the kind of playing that could give Jacobs a unique -- and envied -- spot among his peers.

As for the Hardenbergh organ, the renovation has enlivened Reid Chapel with its full sound, front-facing pipes and wooden swell shades that open and close in full view. It is a welcome addition to Samford's growing School of the Arts.

...and a comment...
Hooray for Paul Jacobs! He, like Nathan Laube, can bring forth sounds totally unexpected. This was a magnificent concert. Paul knows how to connect with his audience in a highly personal way; his selections connect with listeners both intellectually and emotionally. His last trip to Birmingham (at Independent Presbyterian) was just as he was becoming truly famous, back in 1994. I hope it is not another 7 years before we hear him again.

The objective is to reach human immortalityóthat is, to create things which are necessary to mankind, necessary to the purpose of the existence of mankind, and which have become the fruit that drives the creation of a higher state of mankind than ever existed before."


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Re: Organist Paul Jacobs: intelligence, showmanship combine...
« Reply #1 on: June 09, 2012, 02:42:11 AM »

By Andrew Druckenbrod / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

If organist Paul Jacobs sounds this good with only one ear, he must have sounded amazing with two.

OK, a little explanation by way of full disclosure is needed. Prior to Mr. Jacobs' recital at Heinz Chapel Sunday, I swam some laps and could not get the water out of my left ear. I've been a swimmer, competitive even at one time, my entire life but never had this happen before. I was bummed.

But I wasn't going to miss the Washington, Pa., native's biggest recital yet in Pittsburgh. It was presented by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra as part of its Paris Festival. So I did my best impersonation of Evelyn Glennie and focused on the vibrations -- reverberations, really -- and my right ear. But I can't give much of a serious review because of the situation.

I have poked some fun at the PSO for the trappings of its ongoing Paris Festival. But it was a brilliant move to complement the orchestral and choral music at Heinz Hall with organ music of the period. There was such a vibrant performing and compositional pipe organ scene in France leading to some of the masterpieces of the genre. Mr. Jacobs' program reflected this with some of the titans of the field: Maurice Durufle, Louis Vierne, Oliver Messiaen, Jeanne Demessieux and Nadia Boulanger.

Let me step back again briefly. Were Mr. Jacobs "simply" a prodigious talent who built a top solo career starting with his training in Western Pennsylvania, we would be justly celebrating him. Remember the heady young man who in 2000 performed the complete organ works of J.S. Bach in one 18-hour sitting in Westminster Presbyterian Church Upper St. Clair? He has the gift.

But in the last 10 years Mr. Jacobs has become more than that. Appointed chairman of the organ department at the Juilliard School in 2004, he is a pipe organ advocate as much as a performer.

That shined in his sold-out performance Sunday. He spoke eloquently about the music he performed, inviting the audience into this world. Mr. Jacobs is the only artist I have ever seen who says, "We are now going to hear a work," instead of, "I am going to play a work for you" or "you are about to hear a work." It is almost as if he, too, was eager to listen to the music, as if he is so touched by the muse that he was marveling at the music, and his playing, as we were.

After talking about the program, the fingers and feet did the rest. It was hot in Heinz Chapel, I had no sightline to him and I had just one ear, but Mr. Jacobs' phrasing did not fail to impress.

I've heard many organists handle those wild moments when three or four separate parts are happening simultaneously. But I haven't heard too many do that as musically as when Mr. Jacobs gracefully played the melody of the Sicilienne from Durufle's Suite, Op. 5, while the other hand flew up and down the manual in fast scales and his feet walked a completely different rhythm.

In general, Mr. Jacobs kept the line of the music taut from beginning to end, such as in Vierne's Berceuse from his "24 Pieces in Free Style." His lovely, ever-so-exaggerated interpretations of Messiaen's colorful short movements such as "Le Dieu cache" and "Dieu parmi nous" were magnificent. As best I could tell, the splendid organ of Heinz Chapel was, well, splendid. But the afternoon was just another sign of what a special artist -- and leader -- Mr. Jacobs has become.

Andrew Druckenbrod:; 412-263-1750. Blog: Twitter: @druckenbrod.
First Published May 7, 2012 11:21 am

« Last Edit: June 09, 2012, 02:44:16 AM by KB7DQH »
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Re: Organist Paul Jacobs: intelligence, showmanship combine...
« Reply #2 on: June 09, 2012, 02:53:36 AM »

Organ soloist may Ďshake the raftersí
Paul Jacobs plans to get to know the Casavant pipe organ at the Kauffman Center.
Special to The Star
The Kansas City Symphonyís concert next weekend with Joshua Bell has been sold out for months. Bell is a big draw, but thereís another reason this concert has generated so much interest.

Grammy winner Paul Jacobs, who is chairman of the organ department at the Juilliard School in New York, will join the Symphony to play the newly named Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ in Camille Saint-SaŽnsí Symphony No. 3. This will be first time the Symphony will be heard with the organ.

The performances are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Helzberg Hall in the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Jacobs, who has not yet had a chance to play the Kauffman Centerís organ, also will perform a solo organ recital in Helzberg Hall at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

ďIíve read reports and studied it on paper but I will encounter it for the first time on my arrival and will have a few days with it before my recital,Ē he said. ďIt looks like everything is there that one might expect in terms of a versatile instrument capable of handling centuries of great organ music, but also able to fill a large concert hall, which means shaking the rafters at times.Ē

The organ was built by the renowned Canadian company Casavant FrŤres, which has been building pipe organs since 1879.

ďIíve played many Casavant organs in my lifetime and itís a simple fact that Casavant is one of the premier organ builders in the world,Ē Jacobs said. ďOne can say that they are mechanically and artistically consistent instruments. Theyíre always of a high caliber, a very high order.Ē

Best instrumental soloist

Last year, Jacobs won the best instrumental soloist Grammy for ďLivre du Saint Sacrement,Ē a psychedelic, mystical work by Olivier Messiaen. To win a Grammy for solo organ music is amazing enough, but to win for mind-bending Messiaen is truly astounding.

Jacobs has been a great champion of Messiaen, whom he calls ďthe most important composer for organ in the 20th century.Ē In many cities heís played the composerís complete works in all-day marathons. From memory.

Michael Barone, who for 30 years has hosted the National Public Radio Program ďPipe Dreams,Ē says Jacobs is at the forefront of his profession.

ďUnbelievably, he not only performs the complete works of Messiaen and (Johann Sebastian) Bach from memory, but everything he plays, he plays with dash and with insight and individuality of approach,Ē he said.

ďThe listener comes away not only having observed a virtuoso in action, but theyíve also heard the music with its best face forward. Heís one of the finest ambassadors for the pipe organ.Ē

Jacobs wonít be playing any Messiaen in Kansas City (unfortunately), but works by French composers figure into his solo recital and his concert with the Kansas City Symphony.

With the Symphony, he will perform the popular Symphony No. 3 by Saint-SaŽns. Surprisingly, Jacobs sees Saint-SaŽns, the 19th century, conservative Romantic, as being a predecessor of the far-out Messiaen.

Messiaenís music ďis geared to touching the soul and emotions and is quite voluptuous like Saint-SaŽnsí. Saint-SaŽns, like Messiaen, composed a lot of solo organ rep that is quite colorful and flamboyant,Ē Jacobs said.

ďCertainly Saint-SaŽns was a great organist in his own right, and although the organ in the Organ Symphony is not used in the most virtuosic manner, it is quite a substantial part.Ē

It is often called the ďOrgan Symphony,Ē but Saint-SaŽns himself referred to it as a symphony ďavec,Ē or ďwithĒ organ. ďThe work is no means a strenuous demonstration of the organís capability,Ē Barone said. For a full taste of the Kauffman Centerís new instrument, youíll need to go to Jacobsí recital.

Jacobs will perform the Prelude and Fugue in D major by Johann Sebastian Bach, who he says is the most important composer for the organ, along with the suite for organ by Maurice Duruflť and Franz Lisztís Fantasy and Fugue, an important work of the 19th century.

ďThese are three pinnacles of the organ literature,Ē he said. ďThey should expose the vast range of the Kauffman Center organ in all of its glory.Ē

Another virtuoso organist

Most music lovers who associate Liszt with the piano might be surprised to learn that he was also a virtuoso organist. In fact, Saint-SaŽns once called him the greatest organist in the world.

ďBelieve it or not, he was,Ē Jacobs said. ďMost people are not aware of this, but Liszt had a lifelong attraction to the organ and wrote a substantial quantity of organ music. His Fantasy and Fugue is a grand work similar to his B minor Piano Sonata. It has that kind of scale.Ē

The first half of the recital will feature Jacobs in conversation with Barone. Both are voluble and articulate, with strong opinions. Both enjoy discussing the challenge of presenting organ music to a wider audience. Both recognize that organ music does not exactly have mass appeal. Barone attributes this lack of popularity to various causes.

ďThe pipe organ is generically understood by the listening public, but that understanding is somewhat limited by less-than-satisfactory performances in church services. Many people think that organ music accompanies a wedding or funeral, often badly. They are also confused by the complexity of the organís mechanism,Ē Barone said.

ďA grand piano is a grand piano is a grand piano, whether itís a Steinway, a Yamaha or a BŲsendorfer. The basic idea of a grand piano is not based on a great deal of variety. But each pipe organ has its own personality and offers its own challenges to the organist to use that instrument to its best. This all gets very confusing.Ē

Barone, who has consulted performing arts centers around the country on the installation of pipe organs, has seen some of those halls become flourishing spaces for organ recitals, while others have floundered.

ďItís fantastic that wonderful instruments have gone into wonderful spaces like the Kauffman Center. It remains to be seen if support for the space for organ recitals will be continued long-time. The rose is still blushing, and letís hope it continues to do so. The potential is certainly there, but itís a matter of how to engage the casual classical music lover to step out of his experiential parameter and embrace the idea of the organ as a concert instrument.

ďThe organ is confounding because it such a complicated device, but in the end itís really not that complicated at all. The one advantage of a symphony space is that the player is visible and the audience can see how he manipulates the raw beast with all of these controls that bring on and retire different sounds. They see that the organist is an orchestrator as well as an interpreter and athlete and the brains of a supercomputer. He keeps it all functioning so that in the end itís a musical delight, whether soft and quiet or at full roar.Ē

Different results

Barone says that to truly appreciate the organ, audiences need to attend organ recitals regularly.

ďThe fun thing is three organists in a row will get three different results. Thatís the magic and delight and the adventure of the pipe organ. There are so many variables. Every encounter offers the opportunity for new perspectives, so one comes and comes often. What they heard last time may very well not be the experience they have the next time. So you keep coming back. Itís an inexhaustible well of delight.Ē

Jacobs is doing his part to make organ recitals appealing to a larger audience. Heís hopeful that organ newbies who attend his recital on Wednesday will become organ fans.

ďThis is the perfect occasion to break any ice with the public, with those individuals who might have been reluctant to go to an organ recital or are unaware of the very rich world of organ music and performance.

ďOne of my own personal passions is to build a bridge from the organ world to the broader realm of classical music. Many who love music are relatively unfamiliar with organ music, so theyíve not had much exposure to this massive body of artistic creations through the centuries. There is an enormous amount of treasure just waiting to be discovered by those who are willing to give it a try.Ē

In addition to his recital and concert with the Symphony, Jacobs will present a free master class at 11 a.m. Saturday. For reservations to the master class and tickets to the recital and Symphony concerts, call 816-471-0400 or go to

You can hear ďPipe DreamsĒ on KANU-91.5 FM at 9 p.m. Sunday or on

Reach Patrick Neas at

The objective is to reach human immortalityóthat is, to create things which are necessary to mankind, necessary to the purpose of the existence of mankind, and which have become the fruit that drives the creation of a higher state of mankind than ever existed before."


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