Dean W. Billmeyer heads the organ and harpsichord program at the University of Minnesota. Born into a family of scientists in 1955, he began his musical studies at the age of five. In 1973 he entered the Eastman School of Music on an academic scholarship, graduating first in his class. Following further studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and at the Hochschule fí¼r Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Vienna as a Fulbright Scholar, he returned to Eastman where he completed his doctorate in 1982. That year he was named to the Minnesota faculty following a national search to replace the renowned pedagogue Heinrich Fleischer. Billmeyer has appeared as a recitalist and clinician throughout the United States, as well as in Austria, Ireland, Britain, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and the Netherlands. His performances have included a number of premieres and have received numerous broadcasts in both America and abroad. He is the featured soloist on the world premiere recording of William Albright’s 1983 Oratorio A Song to David (Gothic Records G-49066) and has recorded Benjamin Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb and Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms with the Dale Warland Singers (American Choral Catalog ACC 123).
Billmeyer’s performances have consistently been acclaimed by juries and critics in the United States and abroad 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 new music as with literature of the 17th century, Billmeyer appeared with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in 2008 as pianist in performances of Gyí¶rgy Ligeti’s complex Chamber Concerto for 13 Instrumentalists. Other recent performances include a four-city organ recital tour of Norway in 2006, and the closing performance at the 2007 Gí¶teborg Organ Academy in Sweden. He has appeared often with the Minnesota Orchestra, and he performed with the orchestra 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 Ví¤nskí¤. 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. His recording of Dominick Argento’s A Toccata of Galuppi’s, as harpsichord soloist with the Dale Warland Singers, was released in 2003 as part of “Walden Pond“ (Gothic Records CD49217), and received a Grammy® nomination. He performs regularly with his wife, pianist Susan Billmeyer, as the Billmeyer Duo, specializing in 19th and 20th century European concert music written for organ and piano.
Long established as one of the most highly respected teachers in the Midwestern United States, 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 theory and Renaissance counterpoint through the School of Music’s Theory Division, and is currently researching 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 currently serves as a member of the Guild’s national Committee on Professional Certification.