Tiny Desk

Paul Jacobs

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Paul Jacobs: Tiny Desk Concert

The goal of our Tiny Desk Concerts series, from its humble beginnings a little more than three years ago, was to invite musicians to perform intimate concerts without a lot of fuss and without tons of bulky instruments. But on a few occasions, we've gloriously fallen short of our mission by shoehorning more than you might imagine behind Bob Boilen's desk. Somehow, for example, we found room for Chuck Brown's 11-piece go-go band, complete with horn section.

So why not squeeze in a dual-manual concert organ?

We wouldn't have done it for just anyone. But the chance to hear the phenomenal Paul Jacobs play J.S. Bach up close and personal made all the heavy lifting at the loading dock worth it.

Organists, it seems, don't get a lot of respect, even in the classical world. But the enterprising Jacobs is doing his best to turn that around. At 23, he played all of Bach's organ works in an 18-hour marathon concert. He's also played the complete organ works by the French mystic Olivier Messiaen in marathon performances. It was with Messiaen's music that Jacobs won a Grammy earlier this year — the first organist to do so. Jacobs, who heads the Juilliard School's organ department, is widely considered one of today's great organists, and he's not yet turned 40.

Just take a look at all he can do simultaneously — especially in the familiar Bach Invention in F major. The arrangement is by early-20th-century composer Max Reger, who transferred to the feet what Bach originally wrote for the keyboardist's left hand. Thanks to the Tiny Desk "foot-cam," you can watch Jacobs as he practically tap-dances on the pedals, playing several musical lines and rhythms at once in both hands and feet, all in a sparklingly reedy registration.

Jacobs makes an impassioned speech here about the power and durability of Bach's music. And you can hear what he's talking about in the gorgeous "Arioso," which occupies a different realm than the complex, interlocking fugues. It's a surprisingly romantic-sounding piece, and in Jacobs' hands (and feet), its long, flowing lines unfold like a song you hope will never end.

Set List
  • J.S. Bach: "Gigue" Fugue
  • J.S. Bach: Arioso
  • Bach/Reger: Invention in F Major
  • J.S. Bach: Fugue in A Minor

Michael Katzif and Mito Habe-Evans (cameras); edited by Michael Katzif; audio by Kevin Wait; photo by Mito Habe-Evans/NPR

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