Pipe dream comes true

Acclaimed organist Paul Jacobs performs at Rockefeller Chapel.

By Kyle Gorden, AB'00

Paul Jacobs is one of those people whose name can’t be mentioned without using superlatives. The New York Times called him a “wizard”; the Wall Street Journal said he had “mental clarity, stamina, and virtuosity…in abundance”; and the Atlanta Journal Constitution described him as “an artist of boundless talent.” But perhaps the most extraordinary thing about Jacobs is his instrument: the pipe organ. As Gramophone put it, “If there is such a thing as an organ prodigy, Paul Jacobs seems to be it.”

On Sunday, May 15, Jacobs takes the reins of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel’s restored 1928 E. M. Skinner organ for a concert in the Brian Gerrish Organ Performance Series, performing Maurice Duruflé’s Suite Op. 5, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Gigue Fugue, Max Reger’s Symphonic Fantasia and Fugue, Op. 57 (Inferno), and the Chicago premiere of Reverie by contemporary American composer Wayne Oquin.

At just 33, Jacobs has long since taken the organ world by storm. He joined the faculty of the Juilliard School in 2003 and became chair of the organ department in 2004, one of the youngest faculty appointees in the school’s history. His performance awards include first prize in the 1998 Albert Schweitzer National Organ Competition, and he is the only organist to receive the Harvard Musical Association’s Arthur W. Foote Award or a Grammy Award for best instrumental soloist performance (without orchestra).

Known for his virtuoso marathon performances of the complete organ works of Olivier Messiaen (spanning nine hours) and of Bach (at an astounding 18 hours), Jacobs is also noted as an expressive performer. “Smooth, sinuous, flowing, tender: Those are not adjectives always applied to organ playing, but they fit when Jacobs is the one doing it,” wrote the Washington Post in reviewing a Kennedy Center performance that “show[ed] the open passion of a young man intoxicated with music, longing for big statements, lovingly lingering over a golden fugue and ending with a gentle chord of submission, like a bowed head.”

Tickets for the 3 p.m. concert Sunday will be available at the door: $10 for general admission, $5 for seniors, free for students. For more information visit the event’s page or call 773.702.2100.

May 13, 2011