Marathon Man: Juilliard organist gets raves for talent and endurance

2:34:02 PM CDT - Thursday, September 08, 2005

By Shannon Littlejohn

It isn't just the ability to play for 18 hours in one sitting that has drawn critical acclaim for organist Paul Jacobs, the first performer in this year's Rie Bloomfield Organ Series. The attention he has received is more about awesome talent at a young age, a cavernous capacity for memorization and a passion for performing the complete works of his favorite composers.

Jacobs, chairman of the organ department at New York's Juilliard School at Lincoln Center, was appointed to the Juilliard faculty in 2003. Then 26, he was among the youngest faculty appointments in the school's history.

Paul Jacobs
Paul Jacobs
But this is someone who began studying piano at age 6, took up organ study at 13, and at 15 was appointed head organist of a 3,500-strong parish in Washington, Pa.

Robert Town, assistant professor of organ for WSU and the director of the organ series, looks forward to meeting Jacobs.

"Juilliard has a superb piano program but hasn't been known for organ," said Town.

Jacobs definitely has the credentials to draw attention to an organ program. He received a full scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he was a double major studying organ and harpsichord, and picked up his master of music and artist diploma from Yale. He is a first-prize winner in numerous competitions, and is the first organist ever to be honored with the Harvard Musical Association's prestigious Arthur W. Foote Award.

Still, marathon playing is the showy skill that drew him his first national attention in 2000 when, over the course of 14 consecutive nights, he performed the complete organ works of J.S. Bach in New York City and in Philadelphia. The 18-hour marathon of the same works came later that year in Pittsburgh.

Jacobs has memorized most of Bach's organ works, and all of the organ works of Brahms, Franck and Durufle. He also has much of Messiaen memorized, performing the complete body of that composer's organ work in 2002 in a series of nine-hour one-day marathons in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, San Francisco, Minneapolis and Seattle.

The media heap praise on Jacobs wherever he performs. The Chicago Tribune calls him "a supremely gifted organist," one who New York Newsday says offers "radiant playing" and "staggering talents." The Wall Street Journal gives him "charismatic showmanship and unflagging exuberance."

Paul Jacobs will give a concert at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 20, in Wiedemann Recital Hall. Tickets are $7 with discounts available. For information, call the Fine Arts Box Office at 978-3233.

Tickets for the Rie Bloomfield Organ Series are on sale now. In addition to Paul Jacobs' Sept. 20 perform, the performances are:

  • David Briggs, organist emeritus of Gloucester Cathedral in England, Oct. 19-20
  • Vincent DuBois, an award-winning organist making his third consecutive appearance in the series, Nov. 8
  • Huw Lewis, a Welsh organist who also studied with another series' favorite Catharine Crozier, April 25
  • Texas Boys Choir, Feb. 21. This is a bonus event for series subscribers. Season tickets are $20 with discounts available. Call 978-3233 for more information.

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