Jacobson takes his final bows as Baroque Orchestra’s flutist.

Summit Hill flutist Paul Jacobson will make his final appearance on March 12 with Lyra Baroque Orchestra, an ensemble he cofounded nearly 40 years ago. “I want to retire on a crescendo,  not a decrescendo,” he said, and because of that he has chosen the program, “Vivaldi Among Friends.”

“I suppose if you asked me what composers I’m particularly in love with, I’d say J.S. Bach and Mozart,” Jacobson said. “I just adore their music. But Vivaldi is sheer fun. With Vivaldi, I’m going to be able to end on a joyful note. And I want to play Vivaldi while I can still play Vivaldi.”

The concert will begin at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 12, in Sundin Music Hall, 1531 Hewitt Ave. It will celebrate Jacobson’s musicianship on Baroque and classical flute with a program of chamber works and solo concerti for wind and string instruments. 

Paul Jacobson flutist
Lyra Orchestra cofounder Paul Jacobson at home with his Baroque flute. Photo by Brad Stauffer

It was an ever-growing interest in the music of the 17th and 18th centuries that led Jacobson to co-found Lyra. “Baroque music in itself is very conversational, very expressive,” Jacobson said. “It has a lot of emotion—happy, sad and everything in between. And it’s very rhetorical. It speaks. New audiences are often surprised at how this music touches them. Once they hear it, they just eat it up.”

“Paul is a beloved elder statesman,” Curtis Foster said. “He’s extremely engaged and interested…. This is Paul’s baby; it has been for nearly 40 years. It will be hard for us to let him go.”

Jacobson pursued music composition as a graduate student at Columbia University and Union Seminary School of Sacred Music in New York City. “My early background was in flute and piano as well as composition,” he said. His interest in the Baroque began with playing the recorder. “It was so darn much fun,” he said. “I started studying recorder with a woman who was in the avant-garde of American early music. I ended up doing a lot of freelancing as a recorder player. Then I started studying Baroque flute and freelancing as a Baroque flutist.”

The birth of a Baroque orchestra

Jacobson was busy composing music, playing recorder and teaching in New York in 1982 when his wife, Diane, got the call to become a professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul. “She actually became the first woman to teach Old Testament in any of the Lutheran seminaries in the United States,” he said. “I knew there would be something waiting for me to do in Saint Paul.”


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That something was Lyra, which he helped found after meeting Randy Bourne, the producer of the early music program at Minnesota Public Radio. “(Bourne) was a virtuosic organist and harpsichordist,” Jacobson said. “He had one of the only harpsichords in town. We were joined by Cindy Marvin, a very important violin teacher around town. The three of us and oboist Peter Kelly, who is not around anymore, decided we needed to band together and form a Baroque orchestra. That was around 1984. There were hardly any Baroque orchestras in the U.S. at that point.

“None of us had any experience in arts management,” Jacobson said. “We were neophytes. But we put together a plan and a season and within a few months were in the process of incorporating as a nonprofit and getting a 501(c)3.”

Lyra strikes a chord with audiences

Jacobson and the other founders did most of the administrative work for many years with help from “wonderful but small boards of directors,” he said. “I was the first president of the board, then business manager and executive director.”

Lyra flourished from the beginning,  thanks to remarkable musicians and enthusiastic audiences for Baroque orchestra and chamber concerts. Early on, it received the support of a physician at Mayo Clinic who believed in music as an integral part of healing. The neurologist was behind an arrangement that has had Lyra playing companion concerts in Rochester each season.

After Bourne’s retirement in 2000, Jacques Ogg from the Netherlands became Lyra’s artistic director. Renowned worldwide for his harpsichord and fortepiano playing, Ogg has split his time between Saint Paul and abroad. “He’s not only an incredible musician, he has brought in guest artists from all over the world,” Jacobson said. “Jacques is just a saint. He’s so much fun to work with, and he’s been extremely inspiring. I think he feels as much at home in the Twin Cities as he does in Maastricht, Holland.”

‘A passionate player’

It was Ogg who recommended Vivaldi for Jacobson’s final concert. “Paul is a passionate player,” Ogg said. “He’s full of musical ideas. And his suggestions are always about the music, never showing off.”

Lyra’s current executive director is Curtis Foster. An oboe and recorder player, he stayed with Jacobson at his Summit Hill home in 2021 when he was in town for a concert with the Bach Society of Minnesota. “I was at Paul’s home that December when Lyra posted the job for a new executive director,” Foster said. “I had no idea Paul was connected with Lyra. When I mentioned to him that I was thinking of applying for the job, he told me he was on the search committee.”

“Paul is a beloved elder statesman,” Foster said. “He’s extremely engaged and interested, even as his involvement in Lyra has been winding down. This is Paul’s baby; it has been for nearly 40 years. It will be hard for us to let him go.”

Jacobson, for his part, is looking forward to stepping back some from performance. “My career is coming full circle,” he said. “Once retired, I’ll have more time to compose music. I’m very excited about that.”

Tickets for the March 12 concert are $35, $25 for seniors, $5 for students and $15 for the live stream. For reservations, visit lyrabaroque.org or call 651-321-2214.

— Anne Murphy


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