Prof Dean W Billmeyer
Award-winning organist Dean Billmeyer has appeared as a recitalist throughout the United States and Western Europe. His performances have included a number of world premieres and have received numerous broadcasts. Born in 1955 into a family of scientists, Billmeyer began his musical studies at the age of five. In 1973 he entered the Eastman School of Music on an academic scholarship to study with David Craighead. Following further studies in organ and harpsichord with Robert Anderson and Larry Palmer at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Billmeyer entered the class of Michael Radulescu at the Hochschule (today, the Universität) für Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Vienna as a Fulbright Scholar. Following his return to the USA in 1980, he completed his doctorate at the Eastman School in 1982. That year he was named to the University of Minnesota faculty, succeeding the renowned pedagogue Heinrich Fleischer, and has since become established as one of the most highly respected teachers in the Midwestern United States.
Billmeyer’s performances have consistently been acclaimed by juries and critics in the United States and Europe for their technical prowess and interpretive insight. After being named winner of the First Dublin International Organ Festival Competition in 1980, he was praised by Irish National Radio for his “steely control” and “absolute musical and technical assurance and concentration. [Billmeyer] made an outstanding impression on us all.” In reviewing his 1989 recital at Christ Church Cathedral (following his winning Second Prize in the 1988 Dublin Festival), the Irish Times wrote, “[Billmeyer] showed why he had been so highly regarded by the juries. This was consistently intelligent organ playing, particularly strong in its grasp of structure. Phrasing and articulation were unerringly maintained, whilst elegance of ornamentation in the chorale prelude was particularly affecting. Nor was there any lack of virtuosic skills to meet the greater demands of the Reger.” And, in reviewing his 1995 recital at Southern Methodist University, the Dallas Morning News reported: “...Billmeyer can make an organ sing and shout in jubilation. The [Bach] chorale prelude’s main theme hovered over the accompanying figuration like an ardent lover pouring out his heart in a serenade. And the [D Major] Prelude and Fugue, Bach’s most extroverted, stirred the blood and set the pulse pounding.”
Equally at home with avant-garde, aleatoric, and other contemporary music as with literature of the 17th century, Billmeyer worked closely with renowned American composer William Albright on Albright’s 1983 oratorio A Song to David. Billmeyer premiered the work, is the featured soloist on the only commercial recording of the oratorio, and in 2003, performed the work in a concert at Trinity Church, Wall Street, in New York City, in a widely-broadcast concert commemorating the second anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack at the World Trade Center. Billmeyer has appeared regularly over the last fifteen seasons with the Minnesota Orchestra and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and he performed with the former ensemble in 2004 on its European tour in concerts in Vienna and London. With this orchestra he has worked under notable conductors including Charles Dutoit, James Conlon, Helmut Rilling, Edo DeWaart, Bernard Labadie, Sir Neville Marriner, and Osmo Vänskä. Known as a skillful continuo accompanist, his credits as a harpsichordist moreover include performances of such major 20th century works as Elliott Carter’s Sonata for Flute, Oboe, Cello, and Harpsichord. Known as a skillful accompanist, his credits include several recordings with the Dale Warland Singers, including a performance as harpsichord soloist in the 2003 recording of Dominick Argento’s A Toccata of Galuppi’s, which received a Grammy® nomination. His concert highlights in 2011 included a recital commemorating the bicentennial of the birth of French organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll in Long-sur-Somme, France. In 2012 two concert tours of Germany and Austria included lectures given in Eisenach at the Anton Bruckner University for Music in Linz. In 2014 Billmeyer led master classes on works of Bach and other composers in Zethau under the auspices of the Gottfried Silbermann Society. His 2016 German tour will include performances on Silbermann organs at both the Cathedral and Petrikirche in Freiberg.
Billmeyer’s desire to combine the deepest artistic expression in performance with substantial musicological and theoretical awareness is reflected in the balance between his studio and classroom teaching. At Minnesota he presents such core courses in the keyboard curriculum as Organ Literature and History, Continuo Realization, and Advanced Keyboard Skills. He also teaches tonal and modal counterpoint through the School of Music’s Theory Division, and is has researched the cognitive fundamentals of memorization pedagogy for organists. A Fellow of the American Guild of Organists, Billmeyer was the winner of the AGO’s S. Lewis Elmer Award, given for the highest scores in the nation on the Guild’s Certification examinations, in two consecutive years. He has appeared as a performer and clinician at both regional and national conventions of the AGO, and is a past member of the Guild’s national Committee on Professional Certification. He has recently annotated a volume of introductory organ works of Max Reger for publication by Wayne Leupold editions in 2016, and is presently researching the performance practice of J. S. Bach’s organ works as documented by Karl Straube (1873-1950).