In December 2019, I was invited to perform some of Bach’s Unaccompanied Sonatas at St Martin’s Church, Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany.
I have always had an affinity for playing Bach. I would sit with the music as a child, listen to great recordings of Heifetz, Grumiaux and Szeryng and follow the intricate patchwork of notes that the music created. The monumental Chaconne, the extrovert fiery E-Major Preludio and the imperturbable Fugues. These are all pieces that have joined me in my life’s journey. They are pieces of music I will always have within me, and which will always bring me solace and lead me to new ideas.
Performing Solo Bach in concert is always special yet the atmosphere of performing in this old Baroque church on a bitter-cold Christmas Eve night brought a new element to the experience. Perhaps it was the blend of German Baroque interiors and Bach’s music. Perhaps it was playing from a the dizzying heights of the organ loft, unable to view any audience but at the same time, feeling the audience were with me in the music
Performing these Sonatas always exposes a vulnerability that is both technical and emotional. Alone with your instrument, no piano guides you with harmonic support, no orchestra fills the tuttis. You alone are the music and, in tandem with your instrument, create the dialogue.
Every stillness is punctuated by how your bow curves the strings. Every note respects the weight of the next, feels the pull of the harmony, the gravitational mood and the suspended sense of time as you step from one harmonic pillar to the next.
In that solo performance you realise the sorrow and shadows that the weight of your bow can express and the lightness that can radiate in its release.
Bach created a polyphony of chords, with blending registers and blinding suspensions. Their journey as they weave their way through alternating voices, are like fleeting characters who greet and pass us by.
Harmony and melody – two forces that can bring soaring tension and lead us to glorious resolutions.
Bach’s Violin Sonatas possess no religion yet they can offer spirituality to all.