Washington, Pa., native Paul Jacobs wins Grammy for pipe organ recording

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Pipe organist extraordinare Paul Jacobs has a new tool to broadcast his love for the emperor of instruments: a Grammy Award.

The Washington, Pa., native won a gilded gramophone Sunday night for best instrumental soloist performance (without orchestra) in the classical category for his album of Olivier Messiaens' "Livre du Saint Sacrement" on the Naxos label. It's the first Grammy for Mr. Jacobs, 34, one of the world's most accomplished organists and chair of the Juilliard School's organ department.

More impressive is that it is the first disc of solo classical organ to win a Grammy.

"I was stunned," said Mr. Jacobs. "I never would have thought that a very intense, yet magnificent organ music could be honored alongside pop stars like Lady Gaga."

Once a central part of public concert-going, the perception of the pipe organ as primarily an accompaniment to church services has helped to push it to the sideline of classical music. Feeling a responsibility to try to counteract this because of his status, Mr. Jacobs takes every opportunity to tout the splendor and power of the pipe organ. With attention-getting marathon concerts, to speeches and outreach work, he always is looking to promote the organ, not himself.

"Part of my mission and passion is to build a bridge from the pipe organ to the broader world of music, and it is most encouraging to see this met with such an honor," said Mr. Jacobs. "This is not only a good day for me but for the art of organ playing at large."

Mr. Jacobs is no stranger to Messiaen. In 2002, he performed all of the French composer's works in nine-hour recitals in several cities throughout the United States. That's impressive, but it pales in comparison to his 18-hour marathon performance in 2000 at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Upper St. Clair of the complete organ output of Johann Sebastian Bach, marking the 250th anniversary of the composer's death. Mr. Jacobs was only 23. And that feat is challenged by his having given recitals in every state of the union since his professional career began.

Andrew Druckenbrod: adruckenbrod@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1750. Blog: Classical Musings at post-gazette.com.


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