Organist Paul Jacobs Opens for the Cleveland Orchestra's Brahms Performances This Weekend

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By Daniel Hathaway

Brahms lovers (unless they particularly dote on his symphonies) will be ecstatic about what The Cleveland Orchestra is offering this weekend: two sets of concerts, each featuring the powerhouse pianist Yefim Bronfman in one of the two concertos, supplemented with other works by the celebrated nineteenth-century composer.

And in a first-ever occurrence, New York organ virtuoso Paul Jacobs will have the Severance Hall stage all to himself for the first half of the concerts on Saturday, February 21 at 8 and Sunday, February 22 at 3. Jacobs will “open” for the Orchestra with selections from the organ music of Brahms and Johann Sebastian Bach, played on Severance Hall’s 94-rank Norton Memorial Organ, built in Boston by the Ernest M. Skinner Co. in 1931, and restored and relocated by Ohio’s Schantz Organ Co. during the recent Severance Hall renovation.

The organs of major symphony orchestra halls are frequent ports of call for Jacobs, but usually for solo recitals, not for a concert shared between organ and orchestral music. “This is an unusual event, to be sure,” Jacobs said in a telephone conversation from his office at the Juilliard School in New York. “I’ll be playing with The Cleveland Orchestra, but not actually with them. But what an extraordinary way to introduce the audience to the beautiful E.M. Skinner organ at Severance. I’m thrilled that this repertoire is going to be included.”

How did this all come about? “The idea was to offer something unusual that would be well-suited to the music of Brahms,” Jacobs said. “Many Brahms lovers are unfamiliar with the composer’s interest in the organ. While he didn’t leave a large body of organ music to posterity, the music that he did leave is worth hearing.”

(To read the rest of the conversation with Jacobs, click here for the full version at
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