The Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), the nation’s premier orchestra dedicated exclusively to commissioning, performing, and recording new orchestral music, begins its quarter-century season with a free, one-night- only organ spectacular. This special event kicks off with a pre-concert reception honoring composers, musicians, supporters, and friends who have contributed to BMOP’s success over the past 25 years. The ambitious program features two massive organ concertos by Stephen Paulus and Joseph Jongen, alongside works by J.S. Bach (as arranged by Edward Elgar) and Olivier Messiaen, to be performed by America’s leading organist Paul Jacobs on Symphony Hall’s G. Donald Harrison-designed Aeolian-Skinner organ, Opus 1134 (built in 1947, renovated in 2004 by Foley-Baker).
Celebrating the orchestra’s return to Symphony Hall after nearly two decades, this concert marks the first time BMOP has dedicated a concert to the organ in its quarter-century history. “On behalf of the musicians as well as both the artistic and administrative staff, I cannot overstate how exhilarated BMOP feels to be back!” exclaimed Gil Rose, Conductor and Artistic Director of BMOP. “What better way to begin this new chapter than to focus on the neglected canon of organ works? Rarely do concertgoers experience the marvelous tradition of music for organ and orchestra. We hope everyone will be convinced to love the grandeur and colors of this extraordinary ‘King of Instruments.’ We are pleased to dedicate this concert in memory of Ellis L. Phillips III, a longtime BMOP Board member and founding supporter of the organization.”
“It will be a pleasure to join the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and Gil Rose for a performance of two magnetic organ concerti,” said Paul Jacobs. “These riveting works by Paulus and Jongen manifest the uncommon poetry and power of the pipe organ, which I love sharing with audiences.”
Written in 1926 (premiered Brussels 1928, US Premiere 1935 at Carnegie Hall), Joseph Jongen’s (1873-1953) tour de force Symphonie Concertante is the Belgian composer’s grandest work and considered one of the greatest organ works of the 20th century. An unquestionable masterpiece, it requires an organist with superhuman capabilities. As Jongen’s friend Eugène Ysaÿe pointed out, the Symphonie Concertante might better be called a symphony for two orchestras, since “the role you assign to the King of Instruments and its abundant resources … is not limited or restricted; it is clearly a second orchestra that enriches the first.”
The Grand Concerto (commissioned and premiered 2004 by the Dallas Symphony) is one of more than 450 compositions by the late Stephen Paulus (1949-2014). According to Paulus, the Grand Concerto is representative of his overall style in its use of melodic material “sometimes in short strands and at other times in long arches,” in “the interplay of different key juxtapositions and sometimes sudden changes or unusual combinations,” and in its “rhythmic and kinetic energy in forward-moving phrases.” Jacobs, who has performed this piece several times, stated, “some composers find the organ daunting — understandably so — and will avoid writing for it altogether. But Stephen was someone who embraced the instrument, understood it, and composed very beautifully for it.”
J.S. Bach (1685-1750) composed Fantasia and Fugue in C Minor for pipe organ in the 1720s. Two hundred years later, in 1921, British composer Sir Edward Elgar created an arrangement using a rich palette of orchestral color. The result is an intense, multilayered, and visceral work that was centuries in the making. Prominent 20th-century French composer Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) is known for his unique compositional style greatly influenced by his Catholic faith. L’Ascension (The Ascension) is no exception to the composer’s popular, distinct style, and is the most famous of Messiaen’s early orchestral scores. He had in 1931 been appointed organist at L’Église de la Trinité, and by 1935 an organ version of L’Ascension had been finished. The composer described the work as Four Symphonic Meditations: 1) Majesty of Christ praying that His Father should glorify Him, 2) Serene Alleluias from a soul longing for Heaven, 3) Alleluia on the Trumpet, Alleluia on the Cymbal, and 4) Prayer from Christ ascending towards His Father.
BMOP’s 25th-anniversary season will include the release of its 100th album on its independent label BMOP/sound, a special Carnegie Hall concert in New York City in Spring 2023, the launch of a five-year initiative with Odyssey Opera to perform and record opera by Black composers starting with the June 2022 New England premiere of X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X by Anthony Davis, and more exciting happenings to be announced soon.
The recipient of Gramophone Magazine’s 2021 Special Achievement Award, BMOP has been applauded for a 25-year commitment to resurrecting forgotten works and casting a spotlight on rarely performed composers. “Much of the most interesting work is being done by groups led by the conductor Gil Rose, whose Boston Modern Orchestra Project continues to shine in overlooked music.” (Gramophone). According to The Wall Street Journal, “BMOP has long been neutral ground in contemporary music’s style wars, offering itself as a safe haven for, and champion of, virtually every ism, and every genre- and era- mixing hybrid that composers’ imaginations have wrought.”
About Paul Jacobs
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. He has performed to great critical acclaim on five continents and in each of the 50 United States. The only organist ever to have won a Grammy Award—in 2011 for Messiaen’s towering “Livre du Saint-Sacrément,”—Mr. Jacobs is an eloquent champion of his instrument both in the United States and abroad.
No other organist is repeatedly invited as soloist to perform with prestigious orchestras, thus making him a pioneer in the movement for the revival of symphonic music featuring the organ. Mr. Jacobs regularly appears with the Chicago Symphony, 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.
During the 2020-21 season Mr. Jacobs performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra led by Yannick Nezet-Seguin for their digital streaming series including the Poulenc Organ Concerto, as well as chamber versions of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 and Das Lied von der Erde; with the Cleveland Orchestra and Franz Welser-Most for the Poulenc Concerto, and the Jackson (TN) Symphony. He appeared in recitals with the Madison Symphony, Northrop Auditorium at the University of Minnesota, and in Sun City, AZ.
Mr. 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 received Juilliard’s prestigious William Schuman Scholar’s Chair in 2007. In addition to his concert and teaching appearances, Mr. Jacobs is a frequent performer at festivals across the world, and has appeared on American Public Media’s Performance Today, Pipedreams, and Saint Paul Sunday, as well as NPR’s Morning Edition, ABC-TV’s World News Tonight, and BBC Radio 3. In 2017 he received an honorary doctorate from Washington and Jefferson College.
The Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) is the premier orchestra in the United States dedicated exclusively to commissioning, performing, and recording music of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. A unique institution of crucial artistic importance to today’s musical world, BMOP exists to disseminate exceptional orchestral music of the present and recent past via performances and recordings of the highest caliber. Founded by Artistic Director Gil Rose in 1996, BMOP has championed composers whose careers span nine decades.
Each season, Rose brings BMOP’s award-winning orchestra, renowned soloists, and influential composers to the stage of New England Conservatory’s historic Jordan Hall in a series that offers orchestral programming of unrivaled eclecticism. Musical America’s 2016 Ensemble of the Year, BMOP was awarded the 2021 Special Achievement Award from Gramophone Magazine as “an organization that has championed American music of the 20th and 21st century with passion and panache.” The musicians of BMOP are consistently lauded for the energy, imagination, and passion with which they infuse the music of the present era. For more information, please visit BMOP.org.