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.

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