Sunday, November 28, 2010

BACH & friends

Pianist Simone Dinnerstein says that playing Bach is "as close to religion as I get." This sums up my feeling as well as that of most of the musicians who appear in Michael Lawrence's superb new documentary, BACH & friends. The Baltimore filmmaker (see also the brilliant Barrueco: A Gift and a Life) has assembled a stellar and eclectic collection of musicians who all owe a lifetime of gratitude to the most remarkable composer in history. Fascinating interviews are joined with spellbinding performances into a two-hour (plus second bonus DVD of all performances) journey that awes as it stimulates.

All of the performances are noteworthy, but special highlights are organist Felix Hell's amazing rendition of the D Major fugue, mandolinist Chris Thile blazing through the E Major prelude, and Joshua Bell playing the Chaconne. Great camerawork captures Bobby McFerrin, Bela Fleck, Richard Stoltzman, Jake Shimabukuro, Peter Schickele, The Emerson Quartet, my friend Manuel Barrueco, and many others demonstrating the universal effect Bach has had on music and their lives. A provocative, recurring theme throughout the interviews is the notion that Bach did not "compose" the music, but rather simply wrote down what he heard in his head, channeling some otherwordly muse.

My favorite segment of the production is perhaps the Badinerie performed by the Swingle Singers, featuring the wonderful Joanna Goldsmith. This piece reveals the deep connection Bach has with humanity, transcending race, language, and the centuries. It brings to mind something Randy Kentfield once wrote:

It seems to me the various art forms are at varying stages of spiritual development, which I take to be a progression from identification with finite biology to a union with infinite physics. Dangling from the lowest rung of Jacob's Ladder are the verbal modes of expression. Poor, harried humanity, in order to deal with the world at the level of animal survival, has invented labels for what it sees, and has become attached to those names; the underlying processes are hidden from dull men's eyes by the dead weight of their illusory forms. The visual artist is somewhat more liberated. He can transform an animal's limited eyes into totally new ways of seeing. But the musician - that man has forsaken folly and revels in God - deals in a fluid medium unseen and unfelt but ecstatically experienced.

Thanks to Michael Lawrence for another landmark documentary, and I'm delighted to learn there will be a second Bach installment. I highly recommend BACH & friends, no matter your taste in music or art - there is something here for everyone to learn from and aspire to.

BACH & friends page on Michael Lawrence website

Thanks to Michael Lawrence for printing my comments!


Sandy Maudlin said...

Sure liked this. Your views let me peek into the musical world a bit more. Thanks.

Elizabeth Johnson said...

I have my high school orchestra play some Bach every year. They eat it up.

David Lobenberg said...

The Swingle singers are still around?! Love that group and listened to them when I was in my teens or early twenties! Thanks for this posting, and I shall inquire into what they are presently up to.

Jean Burman said...

Thanks for the recommendation Nick... I'll watch out for it. Interesting comment about the provocative recurring theme... the notion that Bach did not compose the music... but rather simply wrote down what he heard in his head... channeling some otherworldly muse. I so get this from a number of differing perspectives. Art music writing... [esp. writing]... so much appears to be channeled from the source to the point where the words once expressed [and if subsequently lost]can never be repeated in exactly the same way. It's odd. And continues to amaze me. Not on the same level as Bach by any means... but my mom played piano by ear. She claimed never to know what her hands were doing when she played. She could read music but simply chose not to. In later years she accompanied singers and could transpose the music[in her head]on demand. I don't know... maybe that's not such a big thing in the music world but it always impressed me [but sadly not the academically trained who looked down their nose at an ear player]. Which makes me wonder. Art has similar equivalents don't you think? Sorry... a little long winded here... but it's an interesting topic Bach and Friends. btw. I love your new painting One O'Clock Hop. So so cool. It's alive!

Jean Burman said...

Oops...that would be One O'clock Jump... not Hop. Sorry Nick ;-/

Nancy Lee Galloway said...

I think I remember you mentioning that Manuel Barrueco was appearing in this documentary. Really interesting and will definitely have to see it. Also fascinating that so many believe Bach channeled the music...writing down what was in his head. Maybe that adds to the feeling of it being close to religion for some..


I love Glenn Gouldberg Variations ....thankyou for this wonderful link Nick .

Carlos León Salazar said...

Great; thanks for share it.

Nick said...

Sandy - perfect gift if you can't think of anything else!

Elizabeth - you've done your part, let's hope it works :)

David - I've been listening to lots of their stuff on Youtube, you might want to check them out there

Jean - I've noticed there is a perception that musicians either read or play by ear. Great musicians do both, and jazz players often do both at the same time. One of the best things about improv is it made me understand all the stuff written stuff I played - why certain notes went with certains chords, etc.
That painting is an old one from the archives, needed to put something different up. Thanks for noticing!

Nancy - the sheer volume of music he wrote makes it seem there wouldn't be enough time to do anything but copy it down!

Jane - Gouldberg, ha ha...a whole documentary could be produced just about those recordings, and probably has

Carlos - sometime track down a good recording of the Gigue from the first lute suite. Things don't get any more exciting than that :) said...

Hi Nick , Glad to see Bach on your Blog .
Have been a Fan these many years.
Still collecting CD's of Partitas, etc. recently .
Thinking of you ,

Anonymous said...

Hello Nick,
Thank you for the recommandation. I'll see if I can find it here.
Best wishes.

Nick said...

June - I'd say it's as close as a human being can come to metaphysical perfection!

Catherine - thanks for stopping. I'm way behind on the internet and blog world, will be over to see the latest asap! :)