Lindsey Chapel Series soloists:
We asked the soloists for Emmanuel Music's 2017 Lindsey Chapel series a few questions about the performances and preparation for their upcoming concerts.
Have you performed these pieces before?
What is your concept of the pieces?
How will you prepare?
Here are their replies, listed in order of concert date.
Click on a name below to jump to the musician's comments:
I haven’t performed either work in a public setting. However, I’ve known this music for decades. I played the French Suite many times as classy background music when I lived in New York City in the 1980s (some amusing stories if you corner me in private). It’s a piece that has always spoken to me; I’m especially drawn to the warmth of the Allemande and the contained excitement of the final Gigue. I remember hearing the Prelude and Fugue for the first time played in concert at the University of Chicago in the 1970s by the great pianist Jörg Demus in a brilliant series of concerts in which he played both books of the Well-Tempered Clavier and also Débussy’s complete Preludes. This set was one of those that especially grabbed me—I was touched by the quiet joy of the perfect Fugue and the serenity, marked by quirky bits, of the Prelude. Later, I studied the Fugue in great detail in a class on Bach’s counterpoint with the composer Easley Blackwood, also at the University of Chicago.
March 9, 2017
When I was invited to perform on this year’s Lenten Series, I was thrilled and honored. I got a late start at the piano – I took my first lesson at the age of thirteen. I played the first Prelude from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I, and later told my teacher that I only wanted to play Bach. My parents had an extensive record collection that included many discs of Glenn Gould playing Bach, and I found them electrifying. My teacher put me on a steady diet of scales and Bach Inventions, with a few Preludes and Fugues thrown in. However, when she assigned me my first Bach Suite I knew I’d really “made it.” She had me learn the French Suite in G Major, and I was ecstatic. She then told me I had to learn music by other composers, which I did grudgingly. At this point in my life I’m a specialist in late 18th and early 19th century music and I primarily play the fortepiano, meaning that I rarely play the music of J. S. Bach. These days if I’m sitting down to learn some Bach, it’s usually a work by one of the sons of Bach.
Sometimes you need an “excuse” to get back to something, and this concert is a wonderful excuse for me to really sit down and learn some J. S. Bach again. It's been both a challenge and an absolute joy. In slow practice, I revel in micro-moments of painful dissonance that completely disappear once the music is played up to speed. (The best composers can always break the rules and get away with it!) Once up to speed, I take joy in the feeling of flight that comes from soaring through this utterly perfect music.
When I did my master’s degree in historical keyboard instruments at the Oberlin Conservatory, I was able to pursue fortepiano as my principal instrument and organ and harpsichord as secondary instruments. I studied harpsichord with Lisa Goode Crawford and organ with David Boe, both of whom had studied with Gustav Leonhardt in Amsterdam. Crawford and Boe regularly discussed how Leonhardt taught them to feel what was happening under your fingers: How to feel the pluck at the harpsichord, and how to feel the air at the organ, and how these things related to making a beautiful sound and to your choices about articulation. I think about these things all the time at every instrument I play, but in coming to the music of Bach after a long absence, I find that I have to bring myself back to those early days when these ideas were new to me. Nothing can be taken for granted. I’m lucky that my first teacher, the indomitable Rosemarie Pacenza, taught me a lot about articulation at the very beginning. Suddenly it feels like many elements of my musical life are coming full circle, and I am grateful for the music of J. S. Bach all over again.
March 16, 2017
Have you performed this piece before?
The D minor Prelude was one of the first pieces I ever studied on the harpsichord, taking lessons at age 14 in Wayland with Betsy Moyer. She used it as an illustration of the harpsichord technique we call 'overholding' (or 'finger pedal') in which the notes are held past their written duration the same way as if one were using the piano's sostenuto pedal, or more to the point, imitating the sonority of the lute or guitar in which there are no dampers to squelch the sound between notes. The Fugue came a little later. I haven't played this particular French Suite in public before, even though I've known them all along and use them frequently in my teaching. What is your concept of the piece?
As regards the Prelude and Fugue: As I said above, the texture of the Prelude reminds one of the 'style luthée' in which broken chords, held and overheld, create a woven tapestry of sound as strings are plucked, bloom in their sound, and eventually decay. This is harpsichord writing at its finest, and the printed page doesn't immediately indicate what can be done to bring this golden sonority to life. The Fugue is more objective, understandably, and can be played more 'as written' (whatever that means) with some success. Its contrapuntal and rhetorical devices are legion - there is inversion, stretto, ellipsis, exergasia (augmenting an idea through repetition), epistrophe (having the ends of sections be the same) and commoratio (using the outline of the fugue subject in doubled thirds both right side up and upside down as a coda). Big words, to be sure, but useful diagnostic tools!
As regards the French Suite: Basically I'm trying to get at Bach's concept as best I may understand it before I make any decisions on my own. The French Suites come to us in the 'dirtiest' form of any of Bach's major pieces - there are competing versions with different notes and ornaments, and most scholarly editions can't settle on just one definitive reading. I see that as an opportunity - one can see how different solutions to the working out of a passage can shed light on its meaning, and give rise to the possibility, always present, of varying certain elements for the repeats of the sections of the various movements. The text is therefore somewhat fluid, allowing for an improvisatory approach even as regards the notes, something most musicians would hold as heresy in Bach, which I hope he would have found ridiculous. If the text can be improved or embellished tastefully, that's the essence of the Baroque approach for me, and we can add our voice to the conversation as a sort of musical midrash. (Many of his works were revisited and revised by Bach himself, and it's fascinating to see how much better the later version is.) To that end, I plan to improvise a 'double' for the repeats of the Sarabande as found in the movements of that name of the A minor and G minor English Suites, in which a much more ornamented (perhaps close to rewritten) version is given for the repeat. As beautiful as the harmonies of that Sarabande are (and they are of a Passion-recit-level intensity) I don't believe in the "Kinko's school of repeats" in which the text is worshipfully reproduced verbatim.
How will you prepare?
Practice, practice, practice!
April 6, 2017
Have you performed these pieces before?
No, I haven't. One of the great things about Emmanuel Music is that it has served as a repertoire leader within its community of musicians. For instance, several years ago I was invited by Emmanuel to play a fortepiano four hands concert with Michael Bahmann. Not only did this lead me to unfamiliar music, but also it inspired a performing relationship with Bahmann that continues today. Just as it did for Michael and me, Emmanuel has established a relationship between BWV 814 and me!
What is your concept of the piece?
B minor is a challenging key for Bach, from his great Mass to a thorny Prelude and Fugue in the second book of the Well-Tempered Clavier. (I'll be playing that on this program, too.) There are also three versions of the Suite, adding to the question of what makes the "right" performance. Generally speaking, however, I don't feel that there are any great mysteries to playing Bach, and I therefore approach his works with integrity to the text, ideally letting the text dictate my interpretation.
How will you prepare?
Since I've already begun preparing, I've had to make some early decisions, namely about which version of the Suite I will be playing. I never like to listen to recordings when preparing a concert, as I prefer to let the text speak to me as plainly as possible. As a "new" work for my repertoire, I am still deciding whether or not I will perform the Suite from memory for this program, but memorizing repertoire is integral to my preparation.