Review: Organist Pulls Out All Stops with Des Moines Symphony (Michael Morain, in The Des Moines Register. February 28, 2016)
"As soon as the first round of applause died down for guest organist Jeffrey Brillhart at the Des Moines Symphony's all-French concert Saturday night (which repeats Sunday afternoon), maestro Joseph Giunta announced that Brillhart's former teacher, the late Drake University professor Carl Staplin, often said that "a great organist is only great if he can improvise".
Then Giunta pulled a slip of paper from his pocket and handed it to Brillhart, who read it silently and said only "Oh my" before reading it aloud to the audience: "La vie en rose" with a taste of "La Marseillaise." He returned to the bench in the middle of the Des Moines Civic Center stage, paused just a moment, and then jumped right in. First came the harmonic foundation, then the "Rose" theme, then the French national anthem but in a minor key, rising from the clamor just as it does in Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" except that here Edith Piaf stood in for the Russian army. The improvised mash-up was the hands-down highlight of the program's first half.
commemoration (David Patrick
Stearns, in The Philadelphia
Inquirer. March 24, 2015)
commemorations of the
Holocaust are, by
unbearable: Its atrocities
loom larger in history as
time goes on...But Stephen
Paulus' "To be Certain of
the Dawn" goes further with
specificity, in ways that
are simultaneously epic and
intimate. It was performed
over the weekend by massed
choral forces and Chamber
Orchestra of Philadelphia
under the sure direction of
Jeffrey Brillhart... The
piece never asks where God
was in the Holocaust,
reminding us that the
tragedy was man-made, with
God allowing what was then
called "inner immigration."
The fact that the
performance brought out all
these qualities speaks well
"I want to say thanks again for a wonderful week of improvisation here at WWC. You exceeded my hopes for the week and made it possible for my students also to exceed what I had hoped they might accomplish. Thanks so much for your masterful teaching. Your recital was similarly spectacular with impeccable performance of literature and mind-blowing improvisations."
-Kraig Scott, Professor of Organ, Walla College, following a residency in which which Mr. Brillhart taught improvisation and presented a concert. (June 20, 2007)
"In the Poulenc, you can't argue too much with interpretations that are primarily defined by conductor and organist not getting in each other's way. On Thursday, there was a great sense of collaboration between Honeck and Brillhart on how a certain kind of sound can be made together. That's so much more satisfying.
"A word about the organ postlude concert: Brillhart improvised on three popular show tunes, "Goodnight My Someone" from Meredith Willson's The Music Man; and two Richard Rodgers tunes, "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair" and "The Surrey With the Fringe on Top." The first took on great personality, thanks to an undulating bass line plus variations on a lot of richly voiced major-seventh chords. The song itself is a pared-back outline of "76 Trombones"; Brillhart had the good taste not to acknowledge that.
"With Rodgers, Brillhart had some fun, perverse moments giving this chipper music a dark, gothic aura."
-David Patrick Stearns, the Philadelphia Inquirer
"A jubilant program...Brillhart is an aristocrat of this least manageable of all the keyboards...his sense of timing is impeccable and he phrases with finesse."
Leslie Valdes, the Philadelphia Inquirer
"His Cochereau-style symphony was a tour de force: a dense, wild, and woolly first movement...an atmospheric rumination on Nun komm, a sprightly scherzo....and a virtuosic toccata on Adoro. That the first prize belonged to Brillhart was beyond dispute."
Scott Cantrell, for The American Organist
"Jeffrey Brillhart conducted with a passion and precision rarely encountered in this day and age. He oversaw every instance of the music as well as propelled that music to its consoling conclusion. This was the most successful overall performance of this great score."
-Michael Caruso, for Chestnut Hill Local. (Performance of Verdi "Requiem.")