The only organist ever to have won a Grammy Award (in 2011 for Messiaen’s towering “Livre du Saint-Sacrement”), Paul Jacobs combines a probing intellect and extraordinary technical skills with an unusually large repertoire, both old and new. “Paul Jacobs is one of the great living virtuosos,” praised Anne Midgette in the The Washington Post, and in an article in The Economist Mr. Jacobs was termed “America’s leading organ performer.”
An eloquent champion of his instrument who argues that the organ for too long has been excluded from the mainstream of classical music, Paul Jacobs is known for his imaginative interpretations and charismatic stage presence. No other organist alive today is repeatedly invited as soloist to perform with the country’s preeminent orchestras, thus making Mr. Jacobs a pioneer in the movement for the revival of symphonic music featuring the organ.
Heralded as “one of the major musicians of our time” by The New Yorker’s Alex Ross, Paul Jacobs has transfixed 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. Mr. Jacobs 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, 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, which he fears is being diluted in a popular culture.
The 2017-18 season brings uncharted territory for Mr. Jacobs; in September he served as president of the jury for the first International Organ Competition in Shanghai, China — an especially important milestone in the development of organ playing in Asia. Mr. Jacobs’ orchestral engagements include Stephen Paulus’ Grand Concerto for Organ and Orchestra with the Cleveland Orchestra, Wayne Oquin’s Resilience and James MacMillan’s A Scotch Bestiary with the Philadelphia Orchestra, as well as Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony with the Utah Symphony and the Chicago Symphony. Recitals are slated under the aegis of the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Hall, as part of the Cleveland Orchestra’s Tristan Project, in Sacramento, Tampa, Houston, Baylor University, and Pittsburgh, among others.
Mr. Jacobs began the 2016-17 season with a recital at Lincoln Center’s Paul Recital Hall, followed by orchestral engagements with the Cleveland Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the National Symphony Orchestra, the Montreal Symphony, the Kansas City Symphony, the Edmonton Symphony, and the Philadelphia Orchestra, where he gave the world premiere of Christopher Rouse’s Organ Concerto and performed the Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony. He also joined the Toledo Symphony for a performance of Michael Dougherty’s Once Upon a Castle, a work he recorded in 2015 with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra which was released by Naxos in September 2016, and awarded three Grammies, including Best Classical Compendium. Solo recitals included the Oregon Bach Festival, El Paso Pro Musica, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center at Alice Tully Hall.
In the 2015-16 season, Mr. Jacobs and world-renowned dramatic soprano Christine Brewer toured the program of their Naxos album “Divine Redeemer,” with appearances at Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival, at Disney Hall in Los Angeles, Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, the St. Louis Cathedral-Basilica, and Spivey Hall in Atlanta, GA. At the Pacific Symphony, Mr. Jacobs curated and performed at a multi-day organ festival in February 2016. Mr. Jacobs performed recitals throughout the United States, including at the Kennedy Center and Denver’s Cathedral of St. John, and he appeared with orchestras including the Indianapolis Symphony and the Lexington Philharmonic. In summer 2016, Mr. Jacobs returned to the Oregon Bach Festival, where he is the director of the Festival’s Organ Institute.
Mr. Jacobs’ performance in Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival with soprano Christine Brewer received a glowing review from Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim of The New York Times:
Seated at the console was the organist Paul Jacobs, a virtuoso of dazzling technical acumen, who anchored this recital of devotional music as part of the Lincoln Center White Light Festival. […]Mr. Jacobs showed off his mastery in a handful of solo selections by Bach, Reger, Charles-Marie Widor and Nadia Boulanger, Lili’s sister. In Reger’s Toccata and Fugue, he built up a wonderfully organic crescendo in which the music expanded in all dimensions — brightness, clarity and volume — until it filled the room with a pulsating, radiant cloud of sound.
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. Mr. Jacobs would go on to make musical history at the age of 23 when he played J.S. Bach’s complete organ works in an 18-hour marathon performance on the 250th anniversary of the composer’s death. He has also performed the complete organ works of Olivier Messiaen in marathon performances throughout North America, and recently reached the milestone of having performed in each of the fifty United States. In addition to his recordings of Messiaen and Daugherty on Naxos, Mr. Jacobs has recorded organ concerti 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 received Juilliard’s prestigious William Schuman Scholar’s Chair in 2007.
In addition to his concert and teaching appearances, Mr. Jacobs is a frequent performer at festivals across the world, and 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.