The Eccles Organ Festival at the Cathedral of the Madeleine begins its 10th season today with a performance by Paul Jacobs. One of this country's most talented and promising young organists, the 26-year-old will present an all-German program of music by J.S. Bach, Handel, Brahms and Reger.
The first half of the recital is devoted to a wide sampling of Bach's music. Jacobs will play the Sinfonia from Cantata No. 29, the Chorale-Prelude "Ich ruf' zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ," BWV 639, the Trio Sonata in C major, BWV 529, and the Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 543.
"I'm very much looking forward to doing this program," Jacobs said in a phone interview from his home in Manhattan. "I'm a great advocate of the music of J.S. Bach. His music speaks to me."
Jacobs believes the baroque master's music fills a need in today's world. "Bach's music presents a great face and great spirituality and power. And, of course, in our present, almost cynical, age we need this music."
Jacobs came to national attention in 2000 playing Bach's music. In an impressive and exhausting endeavor, he performed the composer's entire organ oeuvre in 14 consecutive concerts, first in New York City, then repeating the feat in Philadelphia.
Learning and memorizing a composer's complete organ repertoire and performing marathon concerts seem to be a specialty for the young artist. Jacobs has at his command the works of Brahms, C'sar Franck, Maurice Durufl' and Olivier Messiaen. Last year, Jacobs played Messiaen's entire organ works in a series of single concerts in six different cities across the country.
At the moment he is working on Max Reger's organ music.
Unlike many organists who seem to specialize in one composer or style period, Jacobs thrives on having a vast repertoire at his disposal. "I would not like to limit myself to one composer," he said. "It's important to me to play the music of many different composers."
Jacobs has just been appointed to the organ faculty at Juilliard, and at 26, he is one of the youngest faculty members hired by the prestigious school. "I had just finished my master's degree and artist's diploma at Yale. Everything just sort of fell into place," he said.
Besides teaching and maintaining a busy concert schedule, which will take him to six cities in the United States and Canada in this month alone, Jacobs is the organist and choirmaster at Christ and St. Stephen's Church in Manhattan. "The church is only a few blocks from Juilliard, so it's convenient," he said.
Before entering Yale, Jacobs studied at the Curtis Institute of Music on a full scholarship. He stayed there five years in order to pursue a double major in organ and harpsichord. And even though he doesn't often get the opportunity to play the harpsichord, he does so whenever he can. "It gives me a good chance to play chamber music with other people. I like that, because it can get lonely playing the organ."
Jacobs started out on the piano, and he still loves the instrument. "I began by playing the piano when I was 6, and I continued playing it through my first year at Curtis. But I started my organ studies when I was 13, so I played both instruments for a number of years."
That Jacobs would end up with a career in music and have such a promising future ahead of him is somewhat surprising, even to him. "I come from an unmusical family from a small town in southwestern Pennsylvania," he said. "But already from an early age I was attracted to classical music. When my siblings would listen to popular music, I would listen to Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven."
Jacobs is happiest when he can play the organ. "I love the music, and I love performing. And right now, that's my significant other." For his recital today, besides the works by Bach, Jacobs will play Handel's Concerto No. 1 in G minor, op. 4, Brahms' Two Chorale-Preludes, op. 122, and Reger's "Fantasy on the Chorale 'Hallelujah! Gott zu loben, bleibe meine Seelenfreud.'"
The remaining schedule for this year's Eccles Organ Festival:
Sept. 21: Ken Cowan, professor of music at Westminster Choir College in Princeton
Oct. 5: Marie-Bernadette Dufourcet, organist at Notre-Dame-des-Champs in Paris
Oct. 19: Jeremy Filsell, lecturer at the Royal Academy of Music in London
Nov. 2: Richard Elliott, Mormon Tabernacle Choir organist
All recitals are in the Cathedral of the Madeleine, begin at 8 p.m. and are free of charge.
If you go …
What: Organist Paul Jacobs
Where: Cathedral of the Madeleine
When: Today at 8 p.m.
How much: Free