The St. Alban’s International Organ Competition has
a long tradition of providing select young artists with the exposure and career assistance they deserve. As Simon Thomas Jacobs recently demonstrated to his audience at Hartford’s Center Church, that legacy continues even into the Internet age, where Facebook and YouTube have broadly challenged the relevancy of traditional competitions. But while social media can be an effective tool for promotion, the rigor and unfor- giving nature of competing at St. Alban’s means that whoever comes out on top has proven themselves in a multitude of ways.
In addition to the notoriety his recent competition win has created, several concertgoers were also familiar with Simon from his tenure as Associate Director of Music at Christ Church Episcopal, Greenwich, Connecticut – a job he took upon graduation from Oxford. Since then, Simon has been in the midst of a very busy performance schedule and academic life. He is finishing an Artist Diploma in Organ Performance at Oberlin College Conservatory and touring the world as a recitalist. Until this past summer, he was also the Fellow in Sacred Music at Christ Church Cathedral (Episcopal), Indianapolis, Indiana.
For an organist, graduate school provides that rare time in life when your daily interactions with col- leagues include passionate conversations about your favorite composers and organists. It was no surprise then that Simon offered interesting and informative commentary throughout the concert.
Overall, Simon’s program featured music from France and Germany. He gave a rhythmically driving and spar- kly performance of Krebs’ E Major Toccata and Fugue and then delighted the audience with Georg Böhm’s Partita on “Comfort, Comfort ye my people.” Simon’s use of contrasting registrations and wonderfully clear technique brought the piece to life in a way that is un- common in performances of early baroque repertoire. It was also nice to hear three of J. S. Bach’s settings
of “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland.” Along with the Böhm, the Bach pieces remind us of how creatively the great baroque composers could accompany a theme.
The second half of the concert featured music of France, beginning with the whimsical Fantasia and Fugue in B-flat by Alexandre Boëly. In his commen- tary, Simon painted a portrait of the early 19th century composer as an insouciant curmudgeon, hanging
on to classicism and angrily rejecting the Romantic movement. It offered a possible explanation for why the Fantasia has a flair of sarcasm, with all of those dis- sonances on strong beats, disrupting otherwise lovely arpeggios.
Then it was on to Franck’s lush E Major Chorale. It takes a lot of guts to perform this piece because for many, the interpretive choices are so personal. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed Simon’s performance. While his tempo was on the quicker side, it worked well with the instrument and served to highlight the composition’s internal structure.
Jehan Alain’s Scherzo, from Suite pour orgue, was a highlight. Played with rhythmic exuberance, the organ sounded at its best (save for the encore, which I’ll get to) because it gave the piece its needed tonal palette and clarity.
“Dieu parmi nous,” from Messiaen’s La Nativité du Seigneur, closed the program. As the piece came to an end with that famous final E Major added sixth chord, Simon rightly noted that the audience deserved a fun encore. This we received in Leon Jessel’s Parade of the Tin Soldiers. While Messiaen’s music painted Christ’s Nativity as mysterious and awe-inspiring, Jessel’s piece conjured up memories of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, leaving everyone in the audience with a youthful grin on their face before walking outside and into the rain.
Simon’s concert was hosted by Jason Charneski at Center Church, and co-sponsored by the parish’s Music and the Arts committee and the Greater Hartford Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.