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Grammy-winning opera and organ virtuosos Christine Brewer and Paul Jacobs team up

Aine O'Connor | St. Louis Public Radio

What’s the big deal with the organ these days? It’s big, bulky and often associated with boring church music or, worse, funeral homes. That’s not the full story, according to organist Paul Jacobs, the first and only person to win a Grammy for his organ-playing. He’s trying to change the organ’s perception by teaming up with local favorite, famed soprano Christine Brewer for a new CD and tour.

“Sometimes the organ is on the periphery of classical music and that’s something in my own modest way I’m trying to build a bridge to,” Jacobs said on “St. Louis on the Air” on Tuesday. “This kind of collaboration with Christine enables me to do that. I encourage my students at Juilliard to reach out to other musicians. There’s a lot of chamber music that uses the organ and I think young composers are eager to explore any kinds of options.”

Brewer and Jacobs’ recent album, “Divine Redeemer,” features the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, Charles Gounod, Cesar Franck, among others. Now, they’re bringing their music to Brewer’s hometown, in the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.

“We organists just crave any opportunity to work with other musicians,” Jacobs said. “Sometimes our instrument can be a little bit lonely. The organ is maybe the most unnatural of instruments because it is so complicated, so mechanical. To coax sensitive, expressive music from this machine is a great challenge. Where, on the other hand you have the human voice, which is the most natural. It is embedded within the human person. These two instruments working together is a real thrill.”

The two recorded their album at Church of the Gesu in Milwaukee, and will be performing the same repertoire at each stop on their tour. They are, however, adding a couple of selections not on the recording for their performances.

“Each room, each instrument is different,” Brewer said, explaining that Jacobs goes early to each stop on the tour and registers the organ before they join up and recalibrate their performance together.

“Each instrument is very different and there’s not much standardization,” said Jacobs. “One of the challenges with the great organ in the Basilica is that there are different divisions of the organ scattered around the building, so I have to figure out in making crescendos and decrescendos how to bring in each division at any given moment. It’s a special challenge.”

While the lack of standardization could be considered a problem, both Brewer and Jacobs consider it more of a blessing.  “It forces musicians to always keep interpretations fresh,” Jacobs said. It forces organists to explore and reconsider music they know so well in a different instrument. And there’s the thrill of playing somewhere like the Cathedral Basilica. I mean, it is incredible.”

Related Event

What: St. Louis Cathedral Concerts Presents Christine Brewer and Paul Jacobs
When: Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 8:00 p.m.
Where: Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, 4400 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63108
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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.
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