zaterdag 5 maart 2016

Bach's Cello Suite no. 1

I just came back from playing the first cello suite by Bach at the Oosterpoort in Groningen. On baritone sax. Although I am not doing much these days because of recovering from my illness, these concerts I wanted to do.

Madness of course to play Cello Suites by Bach on sax. But some years ago I wanted to learn this piece. And maybe continue with some other suites. I stuck with the first one until now. 

And of course the first problem starts in the first bar: the big jumps. Very easy on cello, but very hard on sax to make them sound 'normal'. The whole concept of these first bars is almost gone when played on a wind instrument. The idea is to present some arpeggios in the first position, to discover the cello, introducing the instrument and preluding the entire six suites. 

That idea doesn't really work on a wind instrument. But you know, when I play it well, when it works, it's still really great music. It does work in the end. And that's typical for Bach's music. The genius of the notes goes beyond the instrumentation. That's why I wanted to play this on the sax. But it needs the best reed I can find, the best preparation possible and preferably the best acoustics.

Notewhise, the idea of Bach was to leave out as many notes as he could. And leave a lot of notes to the imagination of the listener. Anner Bijlsma once told me during one his lessons that the name of the performer ánd the audience should be on the poster for any concert with the cello suites. This concept makes the pieces rather abstract, but more than that, intriguing and fascinating.

When I restudied the Cello Suites I payed attention to the following things:

-I had to play the piece through, in its entirety. With Bach's music it's so easy to stop at every detail and find a more suitable expression for every note. But I often forget that not only musically I have to construct the whole piece and oversee it, but I also have to find a way for my body to keep going in a relaxed way the entire suite.
I have played this piece may years now and I have noticed that I need to find a balance between preparing the piece in a certain, musical, way and playing in an improvisatory way during the concert. This tour I focussed more on improvising the expression.

-My instrument has to be in order. It has to close and have the least key noise possible. When it doesn't close it's always worse during the concert, for some reason. Everything has to work as smoothly as possible. The piece is hard and long enough.

-When I come back to this piece I have to always rediscover it. It's multilayered, the notes can mean so much, and so many different emotions can be attached to every passage that I experience the piece differently every time I come back to it. If I don't get this right, the performance won't work.

-I have to have different tempi ready because of the acoustics. Every acoustic asks for its own tempo. The wetter, the slower I can play, and then I also have the benefit of the bass notes resounding the rest of the beat or even the rest of the bar.

-This time I reinvented my embouchure again. Every so many years I reinvent my embouchure, and coming back to the cello suite after half year of chemo therapy I changed some things. This had the following reason: I needed to keep on playing during the therapy because I had to monitor my fine motorics (one of the medicins could damage the nerves and influence the motors of the hands). After one month I didn't know what to play anymore and I started to play jazz, transcribing solos and practicing exciting transcriptions, mostly by Coltrane. When I play jazz I play with more under lip out and I tried to also do this when playing classical. And it works. I needed reeds that are a bit harder and that makes playing much easier.

I will write a bit more about embouchure in a later post.

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