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ABOUT PAUL JACOBS

© Fran Kaufmann

Paul Jacobs, one of the finest teachers and organists of our day…

–Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times, June 8, 2022

 

Heralded as “one of the major musicians of our time” by Alex Ross of The New Yorker, as “America’s leading organ performer” by The Economist, and as “a grand New York institution” by James R. Oestreich of The New York Times, the internationally celebrated organist Paul Jacobs combines a probing intellect and extraordinary technical mastery with an unusually large repertoire, both old and new.

 

No other organist is so frequently re-invited as soloist to perform with prestigious orchestras, thus making him a pioneer in the movement for the revival of symphonic music featuring the organ. One would be hard pressed to find any other musician performing five modern or contemporary concertos in one year.  During this 2023-2024 season alone Mr. Jacobs will be premiering Lowell Liebermann’s Organ Concerto co-commissioned by the Jacksonville Symphony and the Oregon Bach Festival; playing Samuel Barber’s Toccata Festiva with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; performing What Do We Make of Bach? by John Harbison with the New England Philharmonic: appearing as soloist with the Toledo Symphony in the Grand Concerto for Organ and Orchestra by Stephen Paulus; and premiering a new version of Michael Daugherty’s Once Upon a Castle for Organ and Orchestra with the Las Vegas Philharmonic.  Additionally, Mr. Jacobs has been invited by the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg to give a recital of Messiaen’s towering Livre du Saint Sacrément, and he will be presented by the Nashville Symphony in an all-Bach solo recital.

 

An eloquent champion of his instrument, Mr. Jacobs is known for his imaginative interpretations and charismatic stage presence. Mr. Jacobs is the only organist ever to have won a GRAMMY Award—in 2011 for Messiaen’s Livre du Saint-Sacrément.  Having performed to great critical acclaim on five continents and in each of the fifty United States, Mr. Jacobs regularly appears with the Chicago Symphony, Cincinnati Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Edmonton Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, Kansas City Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Montreal Symphony, Nashville Symphony, National Symphony Orchestra, Pacific Symphony, Phoenix Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Toledo Symphony, and Utah Symphony, among others. Mr. Jacobs is also Founding Director of the Oregon Bach Festival Organ Institute, a position he assumed ten seasons ago.

 

Mr. Jacobs has moved audiences, colleagues, and critics alike with landmark performances of the complete works for solo organ by J.S. Bach and Messiaen, as well as works by a vast array of other composers. He made musical history at the age of 23 when he played Bach’s complete organ works in an 18-hour marathon performance on the 250th anniversary of the composer’s death. A fierce advocate of new music, Mr. Jacobs has premiered works by Samuel Adler, Mason Bates, Michael Daugherty, Bernd Richard Deutsch, John Harbison, Wayne Oquin, Stephen Paulus, Christopher Theofanidis, and Christopher Rouse, among others. As a teacher he has also been a vocal proponent of the redeeming nature of traditional and contemporary classical music.

 

Past recital engagements have included performances under the aegis of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Cleveland Orchestra, Dallas Symphony, Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center White Light Festival, Los Angeles Philharmonic at Disney Hall, Madison Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Phoenix Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, Oregon Bach Festival, San Francisco Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Warsaw Philharmonic, Spivey Hall in Atlanta, the St. Louis Cathedral-Basilica, Bach Festival Society of Winter Park, as well as at the American Guild of Organists.

 

He has given the world premiere of Christopher Rouse’s Organ Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra—co-commissioned by the National Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic—and, with the Toledo Symphony, has performed Michael Daugherty’s Once Upon a Castle, a work he recorded in 2015 with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and conductor Giancarlo Guerrero which was released by Naxos in September 2016, and awarded three GRAMMYs, including Best Classical Compendium.

 

Mr. Jacobs celebrated the bicentennial of eminent 19th century French composer César Franck’s birth with two solo organ recitals in New York City at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, under the auspices of the American Guild of Organists. Reviewing the second concert in the series, Zachary Woolfe of the The New York Times called Mr. Jacobs “one of the finest organists and teachers of our day…Jacobs’s textures were also beautifully varied in the ‘Prière,’ the trumpet mellowed by the vast space without losing its focus; the ‘Prélude, Fugue et Variation’ was a wistful nocturne, sensitively controlled and never overblown. The ‘Final’ moved from roaring lows to shimmering highs, its dotted-rhythm motif bounding before its pile-on conclusion.” (June, 2022)

 

Performing Stephen Paulus’s Grand Concerto for Organ and Orchestra and Joseph Jongen’s Symphonie for Organ and Orchestra with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project under the baton of Gil Rose at Boston’s Symphony Hall in February 2022, Mr. Jacobs was roundly praised by critics of the Boston Globe, New York Times, Boston Classical Review, and the Musical Intelligencer.  “Jacobs is a musician of astonishing abilities. He has, of course, all his instrument’s technical demands perfectly in hand (and feet). But most striking is Jacobs’ ear for voicings and balances, as well as his intuitive grasp of the spirit of the music at hand.” – Jonathan Blumhofer, Boston Classical Review (February 19, 2022)

 

“Jacobs and the orchestra expertly navigated its many emotional and coloristic vicissitudes,” wrote Geoffrey Wieting in The Boston Intelligencer, February 22, 2022. “With sparkling fingerwork over a sustained pedal melody, the finale, Jubilant, seemingly took root in the French Romantic organ toccata tradition.”

 

Watching his hands fly around the keyboards during the crafty first movement of Paulus’s “Grand Concerto for Organ and Orchestra,” then hearing him pullback the sound to a spider silk murmur, it was clear Rose had drafted an ace. Either one of the Jongen or Paulus concertos will give any soloist a workout. Doing both in the same night would be unthinkable for many.

                                                        – A.Z. Madonna, The Boston Globe (February 20, 2022)

 

When he performed Michael Daugherty’s Once Upon a Castle with the Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of conductor Edward Gardner and with the Kansas City Symphony under the baton of conductor Jason Seber, Cameron Kelsall of Broad Street Review wrote on March 3, 2020:

 

Step aside, Hugh Jackman. If anyone deserves to be called the greatest showman, it’s organ virtuoso Paul Jacobs, who returned to the Philadelphia Orchestra this past weekend for the local premiere of a witty, memorable work written specifically for him.

 

 

Linda Holt of BachTrack had this to say on February 29, 2020:

 

No stranger to Philadelphia audiences, Jacobs performed with the orchestra on the mighty Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ, and one could not imagine a more colorful, thrilling and artistically nuanced presentation. Jacobs is a showman in the best possible sense, exploring and exploiting all the possibilities of this king of instruments, but always in the service of the composer’s intent.

 

In the fall of 2019, Mr. Jacobs highlighted the organ on the New York concert scene, performing in a three-recital series for solo organ to critical acclaim. The series, entitled “The Great French Organ Tradition,” gave New Yorkers the rare opportunity to hear this master organist on three important New York instruments: on the Holtkamp organ in the Juilliard School’s Paul Recital Hall; the 1933 Aeolian-Skinner “Opus 891” at the Church of  St. Mary the Virgin; and St. Ignatius Loyola’s 1993 Mander Organ.

 

Of his performance of Widor’s Toccata, Jay Nordlinger of The New Criterion wrote on September 19, 2019:

 

What was it like? Like you, perhaps, I have heard this piece 568 times. Never quite like this. It was bracing, inexorable, heart-stopping (and heart-swelling at the same time). It was a divine delirium. Your bones rattled—literally. (I am talking about physical sensations.) Never have I been more aware of the poverty of a recording, any recording. Paul Jacobs played the Toccata with the stringency, the tenderness, and the élan that the piece requires. (I am taking the technique for granted, which one should not.) Afterward, audience members kept asking one another, “What was that? What was that piece?” Widor, I believe, would have been tickled.

 

Then Mr. Nordlinger, in The New Criterion “New York Roundup” for the month of October 2019, added:

 

What makes Paul Jacobs a great organist? Let me count a few of the ways. He is exceptionally smart.  He has superb judgment. He is no-nonsense, not fussing over music or cutting it up. He has fabulous fingers, and feet. His performances are virtually unblemished. He has a keen sense of rhythm, which is important for any musician, but maybe especially so for an organist. He knows how to deal with colors, dynamics—all of it. Let me stress his stringency, that no-nonsense quality. Never will you hear playing less airy-fairy or namby-pamby—yet he is never insensitive, in the least. Sitting in a pew, I thought, “He is like a Szell of the organ.” If George Szell, the great conductor, had been an organist, he would have played like Paul Jacobs. I cannot render higher praise than that.

 

George Grella, writing for New York Classical Review (September 18, 2019), had this to say:

 

Jacobs played [Messian’s] Messe de la Pentecôte with a seamless sounding sympathy, gliding through the haunting, spooky passages of isolated timbres and bird calls floating above a cloud of harmonies, at other times playing with such terror and technical skill that the music sounded improvised on the spot. One was again impressed with Jacobs’ orchestral choices, which sounded right for the music, including the crystalline descending cadences that sounded like angels gliding down from the heavens.

 

Marking an important milestone for the development of organ playing in Asia, Mr. Jacobs participated in the 2017 launch of China’s first International Organ Competition—in Shanghai—when he was appointed to serve as president of the competition’s jury. After another successful guest engagement with the Philadelphia Orchestra at Philadelphia’s Verizon Hall performing both Oquin’s Resilience, for organ and orchestra, and James MacMillan’s A Scotch Bestiary, Mr. Jacobs was invited by Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin to tour three major European cities with the Philadelphia Orchestra in May 2018. He played the Oquin work in Brussels, Luxembourg, and in Hamburg’s recently inaugurated Elbphilharmonie.

 

Prodigiously talented from his earliest years, at 15, young Jacobs was appointed head organist of a parish of 3,500 in his hometown, Washington, Pennsylvania. He has performed the complete organ works of Olivier Messiaen in marathon performances throughout North America. In addition to his highly esteemed recordings of Messiaen and Daugherty on Naxos, Mr. Jacobs has recorded organ concertos by Lou Harrison and Aaron Copland with the San Francisco Symphony and Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas on the orchestra’s own label, SFS Media.

 

Mr. Jacobs studied at the Curtis Institute of Music, double-majoring with John Weaver for organ and Lionel Party for harpsichord, and at Yale University with Thomas Murray. He joined the faculty of The Juilliard School in 2003, and was named chairman of the organ department in 2004, one of the youngest faculty appointees in the school’s history. He was awarded Juilliard’s prestigious William Schuman Scholar’s Chair in 2007. In addition to his concert and teaching engagements, Mr. Jacobs has appeared on American Public Media’s Performance Today, Pipedreams, and Saint Paul Sunday, as well as NPR’s Morning Edition, ABC-TV’s World News Tonight, and BBC Radio 3. In 2021 he received the International Performer of the Year Award from the American Guild of Organists, and in 2017 Washington and Jefferson College bestowed him with an honorary doctorate. Mr. Jacobs has written several well-received articles for the Wall Street Journal.

(August 2023. Please discard previously dated materials and contact eli@hemsingpr.com before making any alterations or cuts.)

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