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 twenty-one 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. He has also made 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. In September 2018 Rondeau Production (Leipzig) released Billmeyer’s recording of ten major Preludes and Fugues of J. S. Bach in the 1913 edition of Karl Straube, using Romantic organs built by Wilhelm Sauer in Leipzig and in Bad Salzungen, Germany. The double CD is the only commercial recording of all ten works following Straube’s idiosyncratic, hyper-Romanticized edition. The CD received a nomination for the “Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik” as one of the best classical recordings in Germany in 2018. A review in the Munich Abendzeitung of February 2019 mentions Billmeyer’s focus on the expressive capabilities of the Romantic organs, and states “[the performances comprise] an emotionally touching presentation of Bach – a quality not often heard nowadays, and not just for specialists to enjoy.” A YouTube video trailer can be found by searching for “Straube Plays Bach”. Billmeyer’s recent European appearances include a three-city, five-recital tour of Germany in 2016, with performances in Freiberg (Saxony), Leipzig, and Delbrück (Paderborn). These concerts included recitals on noteworthy organs in Freiberg (Silbermann Organs of 1714 at the Cathedral and 1735 at the Petrikirche, and in Leipzig (1904 Sauer organ at the Michaeliskirche). A feature interview in the Freiberg Freie Presse appeared during the tour with the headline “Organist and Gentleman”. Other European appearances include a recital commemorating the bicentennial of the birth of French organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll in Long-sur-Somme, France in 2011, lectures given in Eisenach and at the Anton Bruckner University for Music in Linz in 2012, and master classes on works of Bach and other composers in Zethau under the auspices of the Gottfried Silbermann Society in 2014. 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 has taught organ and harpsichord literature and history, as well as modal and tonal counterpoint, thoroughbass, and keyboard improvisation. 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 annotated a volume of introductory organ works of Max Reger for publication by Wayne Leupold editions in 2016, and is presently researching the organ music of the Austrian composer Johann Nepomuk David.