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“Bach” with another post!

March is full of all sorts of holidays, real and made up; there is an Internationals Women’s Day, which – surprise! – turned into a month (I really don’t mind this, ha-ha, if it means more flowers and presents), then there’s Pi Day, and St. Patrick’s Day. I have other reasons to celebrate, too; in my immediate family there are three birthdays in March, but as a professional musician, I love celebrating Johann Sebastian Bach’s birthday or, better to say, birth month, since there is no accurate recorded date information. This year, on (some say) March 31st, he turned 338 years young!

Bach is forever! His art is never boring, always new (and it seems he always “knew”, he, the essence of MUSIC!), inspiring, extremely difficult technically, challenging us to reach new spiritual heights, new levels of the musicianship, exposing every minor flaw, and earworm Bach, not letting us fall asleep, and his music is never easy in every impossible way… but despite all this, I have special place for Bach in my life, and I am sure all my colleagues do too.

When I was in high school, I used to own an LP (a.k.a. a vinyl) of Bach’s Organ Preludes. I ALWAYS played it immediately before any important performance – it sent me on my way (BTW, all of those performances were VERY important to me!). This music got me focused, and attuned energetically and spiritually to give the best performance I had within me at that moment, regardless of what I was about to play.

In college I used to prepare 2-3 times more Bach’s music over of what was required, and managed to perform nearly all of the Sonatas and Partitas. In 1986, as a freshman, playing the first lesson from memory all eight movements of the Partita No. I, I surprised professor Akhtyamova and she exclaimed, “Wow! you are an animal!” I hadn’t written down the bowing and fingering changes, and just remembered what she had asked me to do. (And where in the world is that brain anymore? I have a theory and blame it all on having too much fun on all sorts of devices but this is subject for a separate article.) In the second year I played all of Sonata No. I, and so on, and so on.

Later on, I developed a “string quartet dependency”, a very rewarding and satisfying way of music making, which will always stay in my system. Not sure how it happened, but this season I turned again to my first love, Bach, and played many of his works. Over the last three decades lots changed in Baroque performance practice. I love doing the detail work, and there is always something to learn. I am listening to recordings, working with manuscripts, and it is just so much fun!

First, Barbara Hamilton of the Colorado Chamber Players invited me to join them for the Cantata BWV 51 at the St. John’s Cathedral in Denver in December! Can’t thank you enough, Barbara, what a treat!

Getting ready to play with Brune Macary. Photo is courtesy of Barbara Hamilton of the Colorado Chamber Players

Over the holidays I was asked by Ethne Clarke if I was willing to surprise Carlton Gamer with a little house concert on his birthday. I was truly honored by the request, thanks so much for thinking about me.

So it was that on the day before Valentine’s Day, Carlton turned 94; a venerable age for Professor Emeritus of Music at Colorado College, who mentored many generations of students. Colorado Springs musical community wouldn’t be the same without his presence, input, influence, knowledge, and, of course, his music. Professor Gamer is known for being composer of over 70 works and a musical theorist whose articles have been published and cited in a number of academic journals, books, and dissertations. At Colorado College, he taught courses on piano, music theory, music history, and comparative musicology – but he also co-taught courses in the feminist and gender studies, Asian studies, mathematics, and political science departments.

I first met Carlton when Veronika String Quartet was working on his String Quartet, I think we were preparing for his 80thbirthday. Since that time, Carlton came to every concert we played, and there were other occasions when we performed his works.

For the 94th birthday solo recital I took my chances and programmed the famous Chaconne along with a couple of other unaccompanied works. I can’t tell you how much satisfaction I got from seeing it through. Nope, I didn’t play clean and perfect. Nope, I was not nervous… I don’t think. Nope, I hadn’t performed the Chaconne before, I just tossed it around the practice room. In my youth, one had to grow enough gray hair to deserve the right to touch this masterpiece, but now I feel totally ready… at least with the hair. For this special performance, I changed a lot of fingerings and bowings. I listened to many recordings. I called my Baroque specialist friend in Germany several times with questions. Spasibo, Yulechka!!! I couldn’t sleep, singing the parts of it in my head. I taped the music to cardboard so I could read from it easily in performance. Now it is conveniently pinned to the wall above the violin case, no need to page turn.

WIth esteemed Carlton Gamer

The amazing, very special pianist Andras Schiff once said in an interview that he warms up by playing Bach, that scales are for students. Oh, those immortals! I now play different snippets of the Chaconne “staring at me from the wall” after the scales, sometimes I even skip double stops in favor of enjoying myself with Bach (life is short, play Bach first!). It’s so much fun, like I said before, and exhilarating! Speaking of fun, one little kid once said to me, “Did you know Bach had 21 kids? When I grow up, I will have 21 kids too, just like Bach!”

My latest Bach project is a collaboration with pianist and pedagogue Ara Gevorkian. We prepared Bach’s Sonata IV, BWV 1017… the one with the beautiful Siciliano… for students of Pikes Peak State College. In one of the rehearsals, I called my Dad half-way around the globe to let him hear us. Dad was thrilled!

Happy 338th Birthday, beloved Johann Sebastian! Many more happy celebrations to come and chances to play your music!

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