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Grammy Award Winning organist Paul Jacobs tackles "Music from Paris" for Pacific Symphony's Sunday evening "Pedals and Pipes" solo recital

April 11, 2013

Organ master and longtime Pacific Symphony favorite, Paul Jacobs, returns for a solo recital of “Music From Paris” during the final concert of the “Pedals and Pipes” series this season, filled with the bellowing sounds of the majestic $3.1—million William J. Gillespie Concert Organ. The evening showcases music from the French repertoire, which Jacobs claims “touches the soul in a very different way.” Highlighting this Parisian collection, Jacobs performs selections from Oliver Messiaen’s “Livre du Saint Sacrement,” the very piece for which he was awarded Best Solo Instrumental Grammy of the Year in 2010, as well as works by Vierne, Boulanger, Duruflé and Guilmant. Projected images#8212;unique to this concert#8212;give the audience an up—close look at the sheer amount of skill (both physically and musically) needed to take on an instrument of this magnitude.

Described by the Chicago Tribune as “one of the most supremely gifted organists of his generation,” Jacobs performs this single—night concert on Sunday, May 5, at 7:30 p.m. in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Tickets are $20—54; for more information or to purchase tickets call (714) 755—5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.

To help explain why he chose the selected works on the evening’s program, Jacobs delves into the historical importance of a particular organ builder: “In 19th—century Paris, there arose one of the most influential and important organ builders in history: Cavaillé—Coll. His ingenious mechanical and musical innovations to the instrument inspired the creativity of numerous French organists who were also composers, including Boulanger, Duruflé, Guilmant, Messiaen and Vierne—all of whom we’ll hear on the program.”

To start the evening, Jacobs plays the final movement from Louis Vierne’s Symphony No. 1. The word “symphony” is a compositional term usually reserved for orchestral works, but in this case, the organ is the only instrument considered worthy of carrying this large—scale title. This work is followed by Prelude in F Minor by Nadia Boulanger, one of Vierne’s most famous organ students, who as a teacher herself earned a reputation for her commitment to pure musical expression over mere display. Suite, Op. 5—composed by another of Vierne’s students, Maurice Duruflé —contains three movements with harmonies that hint of Ravel and a toccata finale reminiscent of Bach. Oliver Messiaen’s “Livre du Saint Sacrement” is a favorite among organ enthusiasts, and the program concludes with Alexandre Guilmant’s Sonata in D Minor, dedicated to King Leopold II of Belgium.

France is renowned for having some of the most rigorous training for organists. Here, the common musical fundamentals whipped into all musicians are matched by the physically draining demands of the organ (a requirement that is not present in any other instrument). No other instrument requires the ability to improvise fugues using both hands and both feet. Showcasing the works of five post—Baroque composers for organ, Jacobs gives the audience a taste of the incredible craftsmanship and expressiveness that French composers poured into their organ compositions; works created for some of the most magnificent church organs in Europe.

For his recording of Messiaen’s “Livre du Saint Sacrement” with Naxos, Jacobs became the first artist to win a Grammy for a CD of solo organ music. “Music from Paris” showcases three movements from this phenomenal work; a piece that in its entirety contains 18 movements and spans over two and a half hours in length. Messiaen explores a range of emotions, varieties of timbre and a depth of expression on this piece for organ while simultaneously exploring a universal spiritual truth. Regarding the religious aspect, Messiaen said, “I’m a Christian... and I think that in the present age of ecumenism#8212;and, furthermore, in every era#8212;we shouldn’t attach too much importance to religious differences. Everyone#8212;Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Christians, Israelites, even Buddhists#8212;is seeking God, finding God. My work is addressed to all who believe#8212;and also to all others.”

In response, Jacobs says: “Playing the organ requires an acrobatic technique for all four limbs. For me, simple but routine stretching of body parts and maintaining good circulation seems to do the trick. But I think, most importantly, tending to a healthy spiritual life is most crucial to playing the organ. As the great French organist [Charles—Marie] Widor said, ‘To play the organ well, one must understand Eternity.’ I couldn’t agree more!”

No stranger to the hall’s majestic centerpiece, Jacobs has performed on the 4,322—piped William J. Gillespie Concert Organ multiple times. He inaugurated this mighty instrument in 2008 with the famous Saint—Saëns “Organ” Symphony and recorded Michael Daugherty’s “Gospel According to Sister Aimee” with the Symphony, among other performances. Jacobs concurs that no two organs are the same and becoming acquainted with this King of Instruments is something only a master can achieve. After numerous performances on the Gillespie organ, Jacobs says “the great organ at Segerstrom is a marvelous musical machine. The silvery elegance of the organ’s façade complements the refined, rich voicing of the pipes. Being the crown jewel of this concert hall, it serves organists equally well for solo literature as well as in collaboration with orchestra.”

Jacobs made 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 50 United States.

The “Pedals and Pipes” series is sponsored by Valerie and Barry Hon. This concert is generously sponsored by Vina Williams.