Our Priest-in-Charge & Staff
The Rev. Aaron Hudson
Honorary Priest Associates
The Rev. Canon Jay H. Gordon
Honorary Priest Associate
The Rev. James B. Hagen
Honorary Priest Associate
Dr. James Johnson
Organist & Choirmaster
On Sunday, October 1, we will welcome our new organist-choirmaster, Dr. James Johnson. In addition to providing sacred music for our liturgies, James will help us discern re-imagining and renewing our music ministries, drawing on the gifts and talents of our parish community. A biography of introduction is included below. Please join us in welcoming James to Christ & Saint Stephen’s!
James Johnson has enjoyed an active career as a concert pianist, organist-choirmaster, and educator. He has performed and/or recorded with the Boston Pops, the Royal Philharmonic, the Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) Philharmonic, the National Symphony, and the National Radio Orchestra of Slovenia. His recordings have appeared on the “Best Recent Recordings” lists of Clavier Magazine. His lineage as a pianist can be traced back to Rachmaninoff, Liszt, and Beethoven through links with his teachers, Ozan and Patricia Benkman Marsh, who studied with Rachmaninoff himself, as well as with Emil von Sauer. From the early days of his career, critics have frequently and favorably compared his playing to keyboard giants such as Horowitz, Gilels, and Wilhelm Kempf. Johnson is a Steinway artist. His biography has appeared in Who’s Who in America, and in Living Legends, a publication of the International Biographical Centre, Cambridge, UK. He has served on the faculties of the University of Arizona, the University of Alaska, and the University of Nebraska.
As an organist he has studied with Joan Lippincott, of the Westminster Choir College faculty, Roy Johnson (no relation) at the University of Arizona, and William Patrick Partridge, pupil of Leo Sowerby, and organist at Christ Church Cathedral, St. Louis. He is a native of South Carolina, and during his time in Greenville S.C. he was coached by Robert Powell, organist at Christ Church (Episcopal) and composer of hymns and service music for the Hymnal 1982. Some years later Powell wrote a set of chorale preludes at Johnson’s commission which were published by Morningstar Press. During his seven years in Arizona, he had an informal relationship with Camil van Hulse, the last living representative of the Franck school, who served as a mentor during those formative years. Johnson believes that learning is a lifelong process, and he has recently begun improvisation studies with Jason Roberts, winner of the AGO improvisation competition and music director at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in New York City.
Johnson’s inaugural recital of the Gress-Miles organ at the University of Alaska was broadcast nationally on participating NPR stations. He oversaw the installation of a Casavant organ at First United Methodist Church in Fairbanks, Alaska where he served as organist-choirmaster for fifteen years. He played the dedication recital on that instrument. He also oversaw renovations to the 60-rank Reuter organ at All Saints Episcopal Church, the largest Episcopal parish in Nebraska, where he served as organist-choirmaster for fifteen years. Before coming to Christ and St. Stephen’s, he served at St. James’ Episcopal Church in Fremont Nebraska, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and finally for six years at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Richmondtown, Staten Island. During those six years he developed the choir into a virtuoso ensemble that performed works of Howells, Stanford, Dyson and other English Cathedral composers in the weekly services and the periodic Lessons and Carols and Evensong services which were relatively new to St. Andrew’s.
Paul Jacobs made musical history at the age of 23 when, on the 250th anniversary of the death of J. S. Bach in 2000, he played the composer’s complete organ music in an 18-hour non-stop marathon in Pittsburgh. Today, Mr. Jacobs, hailed for his solid musicianship, prodigious technique and vivid interpretive imagination in performances throughout the United States, Europe, South America, Asia, and Australia, is widely acknowledged for reinvigorating the American organ scene with a fresh performance style and “an unbridled joy of music-making” (Baltimore Sun). In 2003 Mr. Jacobs was invited to join the faculty of The Juilliard School , and the following year, he was named chairman of the organ department, one of the youngest faculty appointments in Juilliard’s history.
Known for his “charismatic showmanship and unflagging exuberance” (Wall Street Journal), Mr. Jacobs possesses a vast repertoire spanning from the 16th century through contemporary times. He has performed the complete organ works of Olivier Messiaen in a series of nine-hour marathons in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington D.C., Chicago, where the Chicago Tribune called him “one of the most supremely gifted young organists of his generation,” and in New York, where The New York Times praised his “supple technique and vivid interpretive imagination.”
Following his debut at the Grand Teton Music Festival, Mr. Jacobs is embarking on a particularly noteworthy 2008-09 season, highlighted by debut performances with The Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, the San Francisco Symphony led by Yan Pascal Tortelier, the Phoenix Symphony conducted by Michael Christie, and the opening concerts of the Pacific Symphony’s new season with Mr. Jacobs dedicating the new Fisk organ at Segerstrom Concert Hall in a concert highlighted by world premiere of a new work for organ, brass, and percussion commissioned by the orchestra from Masterprize and Grammy Award-winner Christopher Theofanidis.
He reintroduced an unpublished prelude and fugue by Samuel Barber, performed only once in 1928, in performances in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Los Angeles, Vancouver, and in San Francisco, where he was presented by the San Francisco Symphony as part of their celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the orchestra’s Ruffatti organ. On December 10, 2008, the 100th birthday of Olivier Messiaen, Mr. Jacobs marked the occasion with the composer’s Livre du Saint Sacrement in Woolsey Hall at Yale University , Mr. Jacobs’s alma mater.
Highlights of Mr. Jacobs’s most recent season included performances throughout North America, including several in New York City: His performance of Olivier Messiaen’s 1984 magnum opus Livre du Saint Sacrement at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Times Square, was named by New York magazine as one of New York’s 10 best classical performances of 2007. This was the concluding event of three activities he presented as the recipient of Juilliard’s 2007 William Schuman Scholar’s Chair. He was also tapped by Juilliard for the conservatory’s fifth annual Jerome L. Greene concert, a series honoring the memory and legacy of one of Juilliard’s staunchest supporters and dedicated exclusively to the performance of 17th- and early 18th-century music and recently dedicated New York’s first Schoenstein organ at Christ and St. Stephen’s Church on Manhattan’s West Side, where Mr. Jacobs is the artist in residence.
Paul Jacobs began studying the piano at the age of six and the organ at age 13. At 15 he was appointed head organist of a parish of 3,500 families in his hometown of Washington, Pennsylvania. Mr. Jacobs studied at The Curtis Institute of Music , where he double-majored in organ with John Weaver and harpsichord with Lionel Party. At Yale University, where Mr. Jacobs subsequently studied organ with Thomas Murray, he received a Master of Music degree and Artist Diploma and was awarded several honors, including the Dean’s Prize, the Faculty Prize of the Institute of Sacred Music, and Yale School of Music’s Distinguished Alumni Award. Most recently, Mr. Jacobs was invited to join the Yale University Council Committee on the School of Music by University President Richard Levin.
Mr. Jacobs has captured first prize in numerous competitions, including the 1998 Albert Schweitzer National Organ Competition and is the first organist ever to be honored with the Harvard Musical Association’s Arthur W. Foote Award.
In addition to concert appearances and teaching, Mr. Jacobs has been a featured performer at national and regional conventions of the American Guild of Organists and performs frequently at festivals throughout the U.S. and abroad. He has appeared on American Public Media’s “Pipedreams” and “Saint Paul Sunday,” Bavarian Radio, Brazilian Arts Television, ABC-TV’s World News Tonight, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, NPR’s Morning Edition, and CBC Radio
Director of Concerts
Multi-faceted artist Hannah Spierman has garnered consistent praise, both for her vocal beauty -- her voice has been described as “a sweet, true soprano that falls most gratefully on the ear”, and her performance of Agathe’s lyrical Act III aria in Weber’s Der Freischütz with Bronx Opera was said to “soar to brilliant heights” -- as well as for her compelling stage presence. As Tormentilla in Ralph Vaughan Williams’ rarely-performed 20th-century opera The Poisoned Kiss (also with Bronx Opera), she was lauded by Opera News for offering “a bright characterization and some delightfully quirky line readings”, and for her “conviction and comedy” and for portraying “a three-dimensional human being.”
A frequent performer with the Bronx Opera, Hannah has also appeared with the company as Alice Ford in both Verdi’s Falstaff and Vaughan Williams’ Sir John in Love, Birdie Hubbard in Marc Blitzstein’s Regina, Countess Almaviva in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Musetta in Puccini’s La bohème, both Donna Anna and Donna Elvira in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and Inez in the New York premiere of Die drei Pintos, a work begun by Carl Maria von Weber and completed by Gustav Mahler.
Hannah’s other recent New York-area appearances include Tatyana in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, “English” comedienne Julia Jellicoe in Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Grand Duke, the title role in Gilbert & Sullivan's Princess Ida, Echo in Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos, and Alice Ford in Falstaff with Utopia Opera; a trio of roles in Puccini’s operas -- Giorgetta in Il tabarro, Nella in Gianni Schicchi, and Mimì in La bohème -- with Long Island's North Shore Music Festival; First Lady in Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Gertrude in Hansel and Gretel with Amore Opera; and concert performances as Echo and Donna Elvira with Opera Company of Brooklyn, Maria Boccanegra in Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra and Micaëla in Bizet’s Carmen with Sing Through Central, and the Second Spirit in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas with the New Jersey Oratorio Society. Hannah has also performed regionally throughout the United States, most recently as Rosalinda in Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus with Oswego Opera Theater; Praskowia / Hannah Glawari (cover) in Lehár’s The Merry Widow with Northern Lights Music Festival in Minnesota's Iron Range; as Countess Almaviva with Opera Breve in Wichita Falls, Texas; and as Giorgetta with Buck Hill-Skytop Music Festival in the Poconos.
On the concert stage, Hannah scintillated as Vox Tentationis in a revival of Adriano Ariani’s lost Oratorio di San Francesco with Canterbury Choral Society. Other recent concert appearances include solos in Honegger’s Le roi David with New York Choral Society; Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music with Litha Symphony; Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem, Mozart’s Requiem, and Merab in Handel’s Saul with Canterbury Choral Society; Handel's Messiah with the Garden State Philharmonic; Bach's Magnificat with Central Presbyterian Chorale; Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy with the Orchestra of the Bronx; and Schumann’s Requiem für Mignon with Collegium Westchester. Hannah also performs often with New York Choral Society during their popular Summer Sings, including solos in Mozart’s Coronation Mass, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 and Mass in C, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, and Brahms’ Ein deutches Requiem.
A graduate of the New England Conservatory, Hannah has been in demand as a soloist in both traditional and modern classical music. In Boston, she sang the American premiere of Israeli composer Osnat Netzer's acclaimed song cycle “Light Night Songs” and was featured as The Tourist in Robert Zimmerman's concert opera 9/11 Soliloquies; in New York, she sang excerpts of the title role in Elliot Encarnación’s new opera Lilith in concert at the Manhattan School of Music. In addition to her work as an opera and oratorio soloist, Hannah excels in ensemble singing. She has been a Staff Singer here at Christ & Saint Stephen’s since 2016, and has been heard contributing her voice to such varied institutions as American Classical Orchestra, Tanglewood Festival Choir, the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, and Congregation Kol Ami in White Plains. A skilled visual artist, Hannah also designs and creates bespoke press-on nails for drag queens (and anyone else who wants them). Her work can be viewed on her Instagram @nailsforqueensnyc. She also functions as administrative assistant and social media manager for Bronx Opera. Hannah was born in California, spent her formative years in Vermont, and currently resides in The Bronx with her husband and frequent artistic collaborator, stage director Benjamin Spierman