The classical music industry thrives off a seemingly endless supply of virtuoso soloists regularly paraded before the public (and often playing the same predictable set of repertoire). Whether they have anything worthwhile to offer beyond impressive technique — and box-office cachet — is another matter.
But if you’re interested in experiencing phenomenal skill that’s in the service of keen musical intelligence and the gift to make musical interpretations engaging, this Monday (April 4) evening’s organ recital by Paul Jacobs is not one to pass up.
Now 34, Jacobs began building a following over a decade ago with marathon performances of Bach and Olivier Messiaen. The weekend he spent in 2002 at St. James Cathedral playing the complete organ works by Messiaen — all rendered by memory, and thus with the richest possible expressive focus — left an indelible impression, especially his account of the composer’s Livre du Saint Sacrement. Jacobs’s recent recording of the latter won this year’s Grammy for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (without orchestra).
Jacobs doesn’t have any Messiaen lined up for his recital at the Watjen Concert Organ in Benaroya Hall but will explore an intriguing blend of baroque, romantic, and modern styles. Along with a piece attributed to J.S. Bach, he brings French repertoire by Nadia Boulanger and Maurice Duruflé, American organist John Weaver’s musings on the organ legacy of Bach, and a tour de force by Franz Liszt. No matter how often you’ve heard Liszt’s razzle-dazzle operatic paraphrases on the piano, there’s nothing quite like the sonic thunder of the fantasy-fugue he concocted from Meyerbeer’s opera Le Prophète.
Unlike what are nowadays considered sexier solo instruments (piano, violin, and cello), the organ by definition has a site-specific aspect built in. Jacobs recently achieved another marathon goal by completing his musical traversal of the 50 United States, having performed on the “king of instruments” in each one. But what’s likely to resonate is the individual style Jacobs himself brings to the manuals.
If you go: Paul Jacobs performs at 7:30 p.m. today (April 4) at Benaroya Hall, 200 University St. Tickets from Seattle Symphony Ticket Office at (206) 215-4747 or toll-free at (866) 833-4747, Ticket Office in Benaroya Hall at Third Avenue & Union Street, or online, $19 to $31.