I spent ten wonderful days in Burlington, Vermont at the Lake Champlain Chamber Music Festival at the end of August. It was my first time there and I was moved by the generosity of the festival, all the artists and staff, and the entire Vermont community surrounding it. I had a particularly special experience performing the Third and Fifth Bach Suites for Solo Cello to a packed audience at St. Paul's Church in downtown Burlington.
I had been wanting to perform these two Suites on one program not only for their parallel relationship (the Third Suite is in C-major and the Fifth, in C-minor) but because these two works have been a subject of exploration and re-exploration over the past three years. I made several extended trips to Amsterdam to play these Suites for renowned Dutch cellist Anner Bylsma last year and the year before, and he certainly had a huge influence on how I listened to and approached them. There are obvious challenges of physical endurance and mental concentration as the Fifth Suite is played scordatura (the technique of altering the normal tuning of a stringed instrument to give a particular effect. In this case, tuning the A string down to a G which creates a deeper resonance) and the normal fingering positions naturally shift as well. But it was the musical continuity throughout each movement of one suite and keeping it alive throughout the next, which took the most energy. It made me think how pianists are so much more acclimated to playing solo works because they are, so much of the time, playing by themselves. But it also made me aware of how stirring that vulnerability can be when you have an audience equally focused and eager to go through that experience with you. I could feel how meditative the atmosphere was during the Sarabande of the Fifth Suite and could hear them exhale after the last running flourish of the Courante of the Third Suite. I also remember hearing sirens from nearby firetrucks driving by just as I was beginning the fugue of the Fifth Suite's Prelude and they happened to be a half or semi-tone below the pitches I was playing...a very interesting cacophony of sounds which I'm thankful did not throw me off that afternoon!
Below is a beautiful essay of photos captured by Dana Govett. If you're curious, you can see even larger collection of photographs on the Lake Champlain Chamber Music Festival's website. Just click here.