Organist Jacobs: playing the loneliest instrument

Thu Jul 26, 2012 6:50am EDT
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - Paul Jacobs says the organ can be the "loneliest instrument" but as the winner of the first Grammy for a solo organ CD, touring with world-famous orchestras and as head of the organ department at the Juilliard school, he is fast building a following.

The audience was on its feet at Westminster Cathedral in London on Wednesday night as Jacobs, who is 35 and on the short of side of average, played a tour-de-force recital that started, in an American's nod to Britain, with the only organ sonata written by Elgar, and ended with French composer Jeanne Demessieux's fiendish "Octaves", which seems to demand the performer have three arms and four feet.(here)

The recital, like pretty much everything Jacobs does, was played from memory.

"For music you love, you have to," he said.

The previous day, in an interview at his hotel, Jacobs, dressed conservatively and hardly looking like an activist or an Olympian in this Games-mad city, turned out to be a bit of both.

Jacobs, who has toured with conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Orchestra and won his Grammy in 2011 for his recording of French composer Olivier Messiaen's deeply mystical "Livre du Saint-Sacrement" (Naxos), has strong views on the state of musical culture in the modern world. He doesn't like it, and he's doing his bit to change it.

"Many listeners today do not have a sense of their responsibility when encountering music, unfortunately they do not know how to listen because they have never been shown how to do so, so it's very much the consumerist approach," he said over a cup of very English breakfast tea in his hotel's lobby.

"The education system has largely failed society with its music education, which has rendered it impossible to decode and appreciate hundreds of years of beautiful music. Even some of the most highly educated people have no reference points, our cultural leaders are unaware, they couldn't even hum one theme from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony."   Continued...