Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Celebrated organist Paul Jacob returns Friday to Weidner Center


GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Organist Paul Jacobs returns Friday, April 11, to the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts to re-visit the Wood Family Organ as a Brown County Civic Music Association event. Info: www.weidnercenter.com.

Declared by The Economist as America’s leading organist, Jacobs will demonstrate the versatility of the organ with a diverse program. Jacobs previously performed on the organ – three manuals, 44 stops and 68 ranks of 3,702 pipes – in a 2008 program, also for Brown County Civic Music Association.

He is the only organist to have won a Grammy Award (in 2011 for Oliver Messiaen’s “Livre du Saint-Sacrement”). Among his feats, Jacobs made musical history at age 23 when he played Johann Sebastian Bach’s complete organ works in an 18-hour marathon performance on the 250th anniversary of the composer’s death. He recently reached the milestone of having performed in each of the 50 United States. Ahead, his projects include a recording with the celebrated Wagnerian opera singer Christine Brewer and the performance of an organ concerto that New York Philharmonic composer-in-residence Christopher Rouse is currently writing for him.

For this article, Paul Jacob responded to emailed questions related to Friday’s concert.

Q. As you travel and perform on various organs, do you take notes on their various traits? In case you return. Just to have. Would these just be mental notes?
A. Each organ is custom built. Organ builders carefully consider the architectural and acoustical properties of a given space. There are no two organs exactly alike; in fact, they often differ drastically from one to the next. So we organists must be very flexible in addressing such an eclectic array or organs in our work.

Q. You’ve played the organ at Green Bay’s Weidner Center. Does it register automatically in your mind? “Oh, yes, it does A, B, C. I’ve got to watch for X, Y, Z.”
A. From my previous visit to the Weidner Center several years ago, I recall the organ being a comfortable one to play. It’s just the right size for the hall – voiced beautifully for the room. Returning to it should be like revisiting an old friend. There’s plenty of power available (when necessary), and I anticipate sitting at the organ to prepare for the performance, re-expoloring the lovely array of colors and wide dynamic range, from sensuous strings to blazing-hot reeds.

Q. Does the fact that you’ve played an instrument and know its traits, upon return visits, what you want to perform on it to demonstrate its strengths? Or, or or also, what dictates what you will play on a certain organ on a certain date at whatever stage in your career or current output?
A. As a contemporary organist, I delight in performing centuries of music. Even music that is hundreds of years old can still relate to present day audiences, alongside what composers are writing now for the instrument. My objective is to offer the audience a sampling of the rich repository of great organ music throughout the ages.


Friday’s program

Johann Sebastian Bach: “Prelude and Fugue in D Major, BWV 532”

Robert Schumann: “Canon in A-flat Major, Op. 56, No. 4”

John Stanley: “Voluntary in D Minor, Op. 5, No. 8”


Nadia Boulanger: “Prelude in F”

Edward Elgar: “Pomp and Circumstance March, Op. 39, No. 1”

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: “Andante in F, K. 616”

Alexandre Guilmant: “Sonata in D Minor, Op. 42”

 I. Introduction et Allegro

II. Pastorale

III. Final


Q. Are you conscious of the space – the hall, the location, the setting – in which the organ is featured and how the space adds, detracts or simply suits the organ and what it can produce aurally?
A. Of course, we organists need to play the room as much as the instrument itself.  Being sensitive to how the organ responses to a space intimately informs the very personal art of registration – that is, carefully selecting the various combinations of stops on a given instrument. Some rooms, usually with some reverberation, tend to be more conducive to organ music. Rooms are the resonators for various organs and are crucial for their success. The Weidner Center has a warm, pleasant hall for organ music; it’s “just right.”

Q. As you climb aboard an organ, does your acclamation to it arrive swiftly or does it take a degree of fussing and finessing to figure stuff out to get your optimum from it?

A. I’ll need to reacquaint myself with the location of the organ’s gadgetry, but this shouldn’t take long; perhaps a few hours for the Weidner Center organ. In fact, having an audience present will alter the sounds of the organ, and this often requires organists to manipulate and massage – on the fly – the various pistons and stops and keys and pedals a bit differently from the rehearsal. Of course, there’s risk in doing this, but what a thrill!”

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

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