The Bach Suites as you Have Never Seen Them Before – By Antonio Lysy

Hundreds of scholars have studied and written about the Bach Suites, yet we can only speculate about how or when they were first performed. The original manuscript is lost, leaving us with various facsimiles to decipher, and there are no written accounts by Bach’s contemporaries. The one advantage of this predicament is the wide spectrum of artistic decisions on which a cellist is compelled to ruminate, in order to make them “their own”. Apparently the suites were not intended to be performed as a cycle, although this approach has become increasingly common in the last couple of decades. My current perspective, developed over many years of performing and teaching the suites, is that each of the six tells a distinctive story. And, like a series of books or films, each [...]

If it Ain’t Baroque, Don’t Break It? Thoughts About Playing Bach Today…. — by Inbal Segev

When I decided to record the Bach cello suites a couple of years ago, I started not by playing but by reading. I read Bach's biography, and then a few Baroque practice books (extremely dense and quite boring) and then I became inspired to change almost everything about the way I played Bach. I eventually came back to doing things the way that had been a part of my DNA after years of playing Bach the "modern" way (but improved), and I'd like to share some of my experiments with you. I never played from a manuscript copy before. The notes are difficult to decipher and so the work is slow and cumbersome. Worth it! Playing from copies of the surviving manuscripts by Anna Magdalena and Kellner taught me so much. There is really no way of [...]

The Bach Suites Dilemma – by Laurence Lesser

For longer than any of us may care to remember, we know that violinists are blessed with a beautiful manuscript of Bach’s 6 solo works they have, carefully written out by the composer; but sometime after he wrote the 6 suites for solo cello (finished by 1721) his manuscript disappeared, probably after his death, and has to date never been found.  We are very lucky to have 2 sources, each important in different ways, that have saved these works from oblivion: copies by his wife, Anna Magdalena and by his Leipzig fellow musician, Johann Peter Kellner.  While each has its share of problems, we have more than enough from them to be able to perform these great works.  But still, no MS from the composer . . .  In this [...]

By | 2017-03-10T21:06:11+00:00 January 22nd, 2017|Categories: Performance, Repertoire|Tags: , , |

The Buddha, The Brain, & Bach: One Cellist’s Inner Exploration of Practice

 By Barbara Bogatin (see bio below)  My bare toes feel cold on the smooth cement. The scent of rosemary is hinted in a gentle breeze, as a bee glances my ear and wild turkeys caw raucously in the distance. I take a slow breath—in … pause, out … pause—and become aware of the arising of the intention to take a step. As the weight shifts to the left side of my body, my right knee bends slightly, lifting the heel off the ground, and then the ball and the toe glide airborne over the stone till the tip of my toe reaches its destination. Balance shifts as the right foot bears the full body weight and I stand suspended, legs apart, caught in a slow-motion reenactment of a child learning [...]

On How To Play The Baroque Cello: The Baroque Bow, or, What Your Ear Imagines, Your Bow Should Do, continued

For the continuation of my brief discussion of the baroque bow, I’d like to begin by listing several descriptions that I believe only faintly hide a prejudice towards it as a primitive tool. “The baroque bow is for speaking, while the modern bow is for singing.” “The baroque bow articulates while the modern bow sustains.” “The baroque bow makes a lean, silvery tone, while the modern bow creates a round, lush sound.” And my favorite, “the baroque bow naturally weakens as it is pulled towards the tip.” Before I continue, a quick reminder of two things I mentioned in my previous post: First, what your ear imagines, your bow should be able to do. That last description is usually left where it ends because in this case, the comparison to [...]

On “What Makes a Baroque Cellist:” Foreign Languages, continued

In the previous segment of this blog post I began providing an attempt at an answer to “What Makes a Baroque Cellist.”  I ended with the assertion that what unites many of my favorite early-music practitioners – who in fact often enjoy active careers playing music from all eras, including our own – is a love for language.  I promised that this love is what helps define a “baroque” player, at least of the sort that I admire.  I’d like to illustrate how this is in the following. There are volumes upon volumes written by brilliant women and men on the causes for the dawn of late-nineteenth century isms: Expressionism, Cubism, Dadaism, then Neoclassicism, Minimalism, etc.  When tonality had outlived its usefulness to some composers, they created new languages.  Their [...]

Phrasing and Meter

Today’s ruminations have to do with musical phrasing.  As a music critic for the Washington Post, I’m regularly attending concerts of all kinds.  That, plus a lot of chamber music coaching, leads me to ruminate on this subject often.  The ability to produce clear phrasing is just as important as having good rhythm or intonation, but a lot of folks don’t do it well, or as well as they think.  Remember, in grade school, when we had to take turns reading aloud from the book?  And how some kids were flat, with little inflection and the same pause between every word, while with others it came out sounding like natural speech?  To a certain extent it’s the same with music, sometimes even at the professional level. It’s often been remarked that the [...]

The Britten Cello Suites (Part 4) – An Interview with Colin Carr

  Two of my favorite recordings of the Third Britten Suite are both by Colin Carr, with whom I studied during a summer in high school and then years later as a doctoral student.  On both occasions I brought the Third Suite to my lessons. […]

Bach Suites and You – by Robert Battey

“In a work of art the intellect asks questions; it does not answer them” -Friedrich Hebbel Few tasks are more daunting than attempting to discern and convey J.S. Bach’s precise intentions for his Cello Suites.  Just playing them is hard enough, but a true and meaningful interpretation of the Suites requires an entirely different heuristic model than that of our other repertoire.  This is because the autograph of the Suites has been lost, and we are left only with several flawed and inconsistent copies.  Since there is no original source, everything, from notes to rhythms to phrasings, must be questioned. With many pieces, one can rely on the fidelity and accuracy of a high-quality edition, prepared either from autographs or composer-supervised prints.  There, you have the simple choice of either [...]

The Holy Sextet (Part 2) — by Brant Taylor

Part 1 began an exploration of three bow variables that—in addition to the three well-known concepts of weight, speed, and contact point—make up a sextet of basics that should be known and practiced to maximize your control over the string with the bow.  We discussed the first and most important, bow angle, in Part 1. The remaining two variables may seem relatively minor, but they are by no means unimportant. If practicing means attempting to find solutions to the challenges of successful instrumental control, you should attempt to understand every potential reason for success or failure with the bow. FLATNESS OF HAIR, or how much of the hair makes contact with the string. Many cellists hold the bow with the stick tilted up (toward the fingerboard) to some degree. This means that [...]