Heralded as “one of the major musicians of our time” by Alex Ross of the New Yorker and as “America’s leading organ performer” by the Economist, the internationally celebrated organist Paul Jacobs combines a probing intellect and extraordinary technical mastery with an unusually large repertoire, both old and new.
No other organist is so frequently reinvited to solo with prestigious orchestras, thus making him a pioneer in the movement for the revival of symphonic music featuring the organ. One would be hard pressed to find any other musician performing six modern or contemporary concertos in one year. Since the start of the 2023-2024 season, Jacobs has given the world premiere of Lowell Liebermann’s Organ Concerto, co-commissioned by the Jacksonville Symphony and the Oregon Bach Festival, and was invited to perform with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel as part of the gala celebrating the 20th anniversary of Walt Disney Hall. The concert will be broadcast on PBS’ “Great Performances” early next year.
He has also been invited back to the Los Angeles Philharmonic for a performance of Lou Harrison’s Organ Concerto with Esa-Pekka Salonen. He plays Samuel Barber’s Toccata Festiva with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; What Do We Make of Bach? by John Harbison with the New England Philharmonic; appears as soloist with the Toledo Symphony in the Grand Concerto for Organ and Orchestra by Stephen Paulus, and premieres a new version of Michael Daugherty’s Once Upon a Castle for Organ and Orchestra with the Las Vegas Philharmonic. Additionally, Jacobs has been invited by the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg to give a recital of Messiaen’s towering Livre du Saint Sacrément, and he will be presented by the Nashville Symphony in an all-Bach solo recital.
An eloquent champion of the organ, Jacobs is known for his imaginative interpretations and charismatic stage presence. He is the only organist ever to have won a Grammy Award — in 2011 for Messiaen’s Livre du Saint-Sacrément. Having performed to great critical acclaim on five continents and in each of the 50 United States, Jacobs regularly appears with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Edmonton Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, Kansas City Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Montreal Symphony, Nashville Symphony, National Symphony Orchestra, Pacific Symphony, Phoenix Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Toledo Symphony and Utah Symphony, among others. Jacobs is also founding director of the Oregon Bach Festival Organ Institute, a position he assumed 10 seasons ago.
Jacobs has moved audiences, colleagues and critics alike with landmark performances of the complete works for solo organ by J.S. Bach and Messiaen, as well as works by a vast array of other composers. He made musical history at the age of 23 when he played Bach’s complete organ works in an 18-hour marathon performance on the 250th anniversary of the composer’s death. A fierce advocate of new music, Jacobs has premiered works by Samuel Adler, Mason Bates, Michael Daugherty, Bernd Richard Deutsch, John Harbison, Lowell Liebermann, Wayne Oquin, Stephen Paulus, Christopher Rouse and Christopher Theofanidis, among others. As a teacher, he has also been a vocal proponent of the redeeming nature of traditional and contemporary classical music.
Past recital engagements have included performances presented by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Cleveland Orchestra, Dallas Symphony, Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center White Light Festival, Los Angeles Philharmonic at Disney Hall, Madison Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Phoenix Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, Oregon Bach Festival, San Francisco Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Warsaw Philharmonic, Spivey Hall in Atlanta, the St. Louis Cathedral-Basilica and Bach Festival Society of Winter Park, as well as at the American Guild of Organists.
He has given the world premiere of Christopher Rouse’s Organ Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra — co-commissioned by the National Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic — and with the Toledo Symphony, has performed Michael Daugherty’s Once Upon a Castle, recorded in 2015 with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and conductor Giancarlo Guerrero. It was released by Naxos in September 2016 and awarded three Grammys, including best classical compendium.
Jacobs celebrated the bicentennial of eminent 19th-century French composer César Franck’s birth with two solo organ recitals in New York City at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, presented by the American Guild of Organists. Performing Stephen Paulus’ Grand Concerto for Organ and Orchestra and Joseph Jongen’s Symphonie for Organ and Orchestra with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project under Gil Rose at Boston’s Symphony Hall in February 2022, Jacobs was roundly praised by critics of the Boston Globe, New York Times, Boston Classical Review and the Musical Intelligencer.
In fall 2019, Jacobs highlighted the organ on the New York concert scene, performing in a three-recital series for solo organ to critical acclaim. The series, titled “The Great French Organ Tradition,” gave New Yorkers the rare opportunity to hear him on three important New York instruments: on the Holtkamp organ in the Juilliard School’s Paul Recital Hall; the 1933 Aeolian-Skinner Opus 891 at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin and St. Ignatius Loyola’s 1993 Mander Organ.
Marking an important milestone for the development of organ playing in Asia, Jacobs participated in the 2017 launch of China’s first International Organ Competition in Shanghai, when he was appointed to serve as president of the competition’s jury. After another successful guest engagement with the Philadelphia Orchestra at Philadelphia’s Verizon Hall performing both Oquin’s Resilience, for organ and orchestra, and James MacMillan’s A Scotch Bestiary, Jacobs was invited by Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin to tour three major European cities with the Philadelphia Orchestra in May 2018. He played the Oquin work in Brussels, Luxembourg and in Hamburg’s recently inaugurated Elbphilharmonie.
Prodigiously talented from his earliest years, Jacobs at 15 was appointed head organist of a parish of 3,500 in his hometown of Washington, Pennsylvania. He has performed the complete organ works of Olivier Messiaen in marathon performances throughout North America. In addition to his recordings of Messiaen and Daugherty on Naxos, Jacobs has recorded organ concertos by Lou Harrison and Aaron Copland with the San Francisco Symphony and Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas on the orchestra’s own label, SFS Media.
Jacobs studied at the Curtis Institute of Music, double-majoring with John Weaver for organ and Lionel Party for harpsichord, and at Yale University with Thomas Murray. He joined the faculty of the Juilliard School in 2003 and was named chairman of the organ department in 2004, one of the youngest faculty appointees in the school’s history. He was awarded Juilliard’s prestigious William Schuman Scholar’s Chair in 2007.
In addition to his concert and teaching engagements, Jacobs has appeared on American Public Media’s “Performance Today,” “Pipedreams” and “St. Paul Sunday,” as well as NPR’s “Morning Edition,” ABC’s “World News Tonight” and BBC Radio 3. In 2021, he received the International Performer of the Year Award from the American Guild of Organists; in 2017, Washington and Jefferson College gave him with an honorary doctorate. Jacobs has written several well-received articles for the Wall Street Journal.
Please note: Biographies are based on information provided to the CSO by the artists or their representatives. More current information may be available on websites of the artists or their management.