Paul Jacobs first caught the music world’s ear in 2000, when, as a 23-year-old organ virtuoso, he marked the 250th anniversary of Bach’s birth by playing all the composer’s organ works by memory in a grueling 18-hour span at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Upper St. Clair.
Jacobs was due to return to the church last year to commemorate the 20th anniversary of his feat, but the onset of the coronavirus pandemic led to the concert being scrubbed. It was shifted to July 2020, but called off again as the virus maintained its grip.
With vaccines going into arms and restrictions largely having been lifted, Jacobs’ return to Westminster Presbyterian Church has been put back on the calendar. The Washington-area native and 1995 graduate of Trinity High School will be playing there Friday, Aug. 27, at 7:30 p.m. The program will include a Bach selection, but Jacobs is also planning on tackling works by Handel, Cesar Franck and Dudley Buck.
“Things are picking up,” Jacobs explained on the phone last week from his office at the Juilliard School, where he is chairman of the organ department.
Jacobs already has a host of awards and honors to his credit, including a Grammy and an honorary doctorate from Washington & Jefferson College, and earlier this month he added another – the International Society of Organists named him International Performer of the Year. Previous honorees include two of Jacobs’ mentors: John Weaver, one of his instructors at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia; and Thomas Murray, an instructor at Yale University when Jacobs was in its graduate music program.
“I did not seek (the honor) out,” Jacobs said, calling it “a pleasant surprise.” The honor includes a recital sponsored by the guild, which is planned for sometime in 2022.
“We are doing our best to continue this magnificent art form that goes back centuries,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs will be paying tribute to Weaver in his performance at Westminster Presbyterian Church by playing “Fantasia for Organ,” which Weaver wrote in 1977, the year Jacobs was born. Aside from having been a trusted mentor, Weaver “was also a gifted composer whose music is well-crafted and has wide appeal,” according to Jacobs.
His schedule after the Westminster Presbyterian Church appearance will be busy. He has a concert in Paris booked, a couple of trips to Poland planned, and several domestic concerts. People who make a living in the arts had a tough row to hoe in 2020, and musicians who make their living playing classical works were particularly hard-hit. Many symphonies instituted salary cuts, furloughs and layoffs. Jacobs did OK throughout the pandemic. He wrote two articles for The Wall Street Journal, one on Handel and one on contemporary organ music, and performed in streamed concerts and recitals, including engagements with the orchestras in Cleveland and Philadelphia.
“l was not at a desperate state,” Jacobs said. Throughout the pandemic, though, “The regular practice regimen, that never really ceased. That’s a very meaningful part of a musician’s existence. It’s not like my fingers have atrophied.”
Jacobs’ concert at Westminster Presbyterian Church is being co-sponsored by the Organ Artists Series of Pittsburgh. Tickets will be available soon at the Organ Artists Series site, organseries.com. Tickets will be $12 for adults, free for students and also available at the door at Westminster Presbyterian Church.