Unlike many classical musicians, an organist can’t travel with his or her instrument, but has to perform on someone else’s. At the same time, it takes an organist’s individual talent and interpretation to bring that instrument to life, notes Grammy Award-winning organist Paul Jacobs.
Jacobs, chair of the Organ Department at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York, brings his own keyboard talent to Baylor University for a March 15 performance on the Jones Concert Hall organ.
It’s the final concert in the Baylor School of Music’s Distinguished Artist Series and brings Jacobs to the campus where his former Juilliard student Isabelle Demers heads the organ department.
Jacobs is a champion of the pipe organ, whose dynamic range and tonal span gives it a musical potential unmatched by other instruments. The sheer number of possibilities created by different stops and registers, however, demands considerable advance planning and practice from an organist.
“There’s much more effort required of an organist than other instrumentalists. I have no problem saying that,” said Jacobs. It’s not uncommon for an organist to spend the day before a recital working on the combination of stops that brings out the best in the music — a best that often isn’t in the score, but the performer’s interpretation, he said.
“It’s up the organist to shade and color the music,” he said.
Jacobs’ program focuses on two of the organ’s great composers, Johann Sebastian Bach and Franz Liszt. The two showcase different aspects of the organ, Bach the intricate interplay of multiple musical lines, Liszt the rich tonal color drawn from orchestral scores that he adapted for the organ.
He’ll play Bach’s most famous organ work, the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, as well as the Trio Sonata in E minor, the “Arioso” from Cantata No. 156 and the Prelude and Fugue in D major.
“Bach is the greatest composer for the organ. One should never tire of hearing Bach if he’s done properly,” Jacobs said.
The second part of the program features Liszt’s Fantasy and Fugue on the chorale “Ad nos, ad salutarem undam,” based on Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera “Le prophète.”
Both Bach and Liszt provide only a general sense of dynamics in their writing, leaving performers to interpret and add nuance. “Obviously, one needs to study the score, but be willing to conceive the music in different ways,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs has promoted orchestral works for the organ in his repertory and he often performs with such orchestras as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Cleveland Orchestra. He’s the only organist to earn a Grammy Award, winning in 2011 for his recording of Olivier Messiaen’s “Livre du Saint-Sacrement.” Jacobs also has memorized the entire organ works of Bach, Messiaen, Johannes Brahms and César Franck.
“I like to stretch the parameters of what an organist can do,” he said. “There’s no better instrument to reel in new (listeners) than the pipe organ — its bold, daring nature, its range of sounds and dynamics — it’s all there.”