Bach Methodology

Since I left the Midwest and moved back to Philadelphia a couple of years ago, I haven’t made music with any period instrumentalists here.  In early January this year, I debuted my violoncello da spalla, beautifully built by Dmitry Badiarov, in a concert of Bach cantata BWV 41 with the period instruments, but that was not in Philadelphia— it was in Bloomington, Indiana.  I should be networking harder to make early music connections here, indeed, but it isn’t easy for me… It is so true that your networking base and strong connections are developed while you’re in school, and it gets much harder after that.

But since I left Bloomington, I’ve been so lucky as to work with truly exceptional modern instrumentalists on Bach.  In recent summers at Marlboro, I’ve been organizing informal and private Bach reading sessions for fun.  And from this past summer, as per our artistic director Mitsuko Uchida’s request, I started to coach/advise in officially-scheduled Bach rehearsals at Marlboro.  Just a few weeks ago, I was involved in the Bach Aria Concert presented by the PCMS as a Bach adviser/coach and a rehearsal manager, and worked with the Philadelphia Orchestra principal players, such as oboist Richard Woodhams, and also with some visiting players, such as the Juilliard String Quartet’s 1st violinist and my good friend Joseph Lin.  I have also received a few requests from non-HIP music events/festivals in Japan, Brazil and here in the US, to do Bach masterclasses or to speak at Bach forums.  Working on Bach with the top echelon modern instrument players seems to be growing into one major part of my career (if there’s such a thing).

I had already talked about my take on the Bach played on the modern instruments in this post.  And I believe that, if you are very serious about using the right tool for the right purpose, you’d find a way to pick up a period instrument, like I did, and like all my period instrumentalist friends did.  But oftentimes, what those musicians had worked on from very young age dictates their future paths too early— or they are too invested in their craft and they don’t think they can justify switching the instruments.  …Perhaps simply that they haven’t had the inspiration that was strong enough to push them over to the HIP side.  At any rate, so many of them yearn for more Bach.  They long to play Bach, and they long for the rare chances to do so.

Sure, there are some modern instrumentalists who believe that the modern instruments are evolved, improved and just overall better version of their baroque counterparts.  But those aren’t the musicians who approach me.  The modern musicians who express their wish to do Bach with me are all extremely sensitive, versatile and eager.  And with those musicians, I am very confident that I can do Bach that is genuine and insightful.  We will observe musical rhetoric in the way and at the depth that even some professional period instrument ensembles don’t attain— we will be even exploring the building blocks of the Bach to ascertain the most functional and practical delivery of the message.  This I can do with modern instrumentalists who trust me— and this I cannot do with period instrumentalists who don’t know me.

My ideal Bach isn’t about the authenticity or the historical accuracy.  It is still easier to approach my ideal with the period instruments, I admit that.  But I want to make the music work, and I don’t want to just do a historical reenactment.  I know I can still make music work, though not easy, with a group of good and sensitive modern instrumentalists who give me the chance.


I’m still here!

It’s been more than a half year since I posted the previous blog entry…  I don’t know how I let the time get away like this.  I still have much to say, and I still love to write when I have the time that I can somehow justify spending for blogging.

One big reason I didn’t write during this past summer and in the fall this year (2013) was definitely my exhaustion at Marlboro Music Festival— it was the busiest summer I ever had.  Having no true days off for 8+ weeks, and getting no fishing (to me a real therapeutic activity) during the festival season for 7 weeks, seriously wore me down to the extent from which I never felt like I had recovered.

This isn’t to say that I had the worst summer at Marlboro— I was just very very busy because of my role at the festival that expanded like a pufferfish.  We will absolutely have to make it more manageable next summer though… No matter how stressful this newly added part of my job could get, I’d still very much enjoy that part.  Why?  Because that part has something to do with Bach! : )

Anyway, now that all grading’s done, I should be able to get back to this!


For my (past) conducting students

Today was the last day of the semester for me at Temple.  It’s that time again— time to shake hands with some of those students, saying good luck.  I’m usually very proud of my students leaving my classes as better … Continue reading


Selfish self-deprecation

Fairly recently, I had an opportunity to play the prelude from Bach’s cello suite VI on the violoncello da spalla to a small crowd in a modest suburban church.  The pressure was almost non-existent; I’d played some cello duets there … Continue reading



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The last time I fly-fished was probably in 2009— it’s been too long.  I do bass fishing every year, but fly fishing has been quite elusive for me.  One thing I’m excited about this summer is that I’ll be free … Continue reading


Looking back at Marlboro Music 2012

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She is here. She is here, just sitting right next to me.  Next to me, in the cozy flowing air.  We exchange neither words nor glances— we are just sharing the moment without being a party of two.  Physical proximity … Continue reading


I’m back.

Writing blogs is, for me, like yapping away with someone.  It is storytelling.  It is sometimes recording of my own critical thinking, but more often than not, it is a good distraction from unwanted thoughts.  It had been procrastination. I … Continue reading