Paul Jacobs, organ virtuoso, at Severance Hall

This afternoon I heard a recital by the 28-year-old organ virtuoso Paul Jacobs, who is the head of the Organ Department at the Juilliard School in NYC. He has gotten a fair amount of notoriety over the past few years for performing the musical equivalent of parlor tricks of marathon organ recitals; for example, the complete organ works of J.S. Bach in one 18-hour recital; or the complete organ works of Olivier Messiaen in one 9-hour concert. I felt almost cheated today that the program was a pretty standard mixed recital of only an hour and a half in duration.

There was the usual Bach (the Marcel Dupré transcription of “Wir danken dir” from Cantata 79 and the A Minor prelude and fugue), Messiaen (three movements from Livre du Saint Sacrement–two of the three which I myself played in church today–he didn’t choose the hard movements), Widor, Duruflé (the Toccata from the Suite) and Reger (the Wachet auf fantasia and fugue). The performer also added some unnecessary spoken program notes during the course of the program in an “ov-er-ly ar-ti-cu-lat-ed” style of speech.

If Jacobs had been paid by the note he would be well-off this evening. There were lots of notes, and most of them were in the right place at the right time. However, as a distinguished local organist (who can remain nameless here, but let’s just say that he knows what he’s talking about) pointed out to me that Jacobs playing was like his speaking–everything note perfect, but without much soul. He played entirely from memory (quite unusual for organ recitals), but beyond admiration for all the notes, I found it all quite lacking. The guy is young–maybe a few years of experience will give it more authority. Right now he seems like a prodigy not quite grown into his skills.

The audience was exceedingly slim–the product of not much advertising? a beautiful Fall afternoon? Cleveland Indians last home cliff-hanger game for the season? Too bad. If more people don’t go, Severance Hall will cancel the series, which would be too bad.

2 thoughts on “Paul Jacobs, organ virtuoso, at Severance Hall

  1. February 11, 2008. i just returned home from an extradinary paul jacobs concert in Houston, Tx. I have never been so impressed, so thrilled to hear a musician with so much expertise – so much technical ability – so dedicated to his music. I know. I played the piano from the time I was 9 yrs through college. It was a thrilling evening. I wish I could go again to hear him tomorrow night. In fact, if he were here I would do it and bring every friend to hear a true musical genius. are you insane to leave a critical review based on the jealous criticsm of another organist? no one asked him to play a concert. you won’t be remembered for musical ability. but anyone who has the opportunity to hear Paul Jacobs will never forget him. Thank you Paul for a great evening of entertainment. I’ll never hear anyone in my lifetime with more talent.

  2. Mr. Jacobs gave a recital in my town last night, and the performance was nothing less than superb. His playing represents the perfect marriage of technical virtuosity and interpretative genius–plenty of “soul.” He programmed the Sowerby Pageant and Liszt’s Fantasia and Fugue on a Theme of Meyerbeer, both very technically demanding works, and he played them to a rapt, transfigured audience. The entire program, which included several unannounced selections by Bach, was performed from memory.

    If you haven’t yet, I’d recommend giving Mr. Jacobs another try . . . ears open this time.

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