Friday, May 15, 2009

The Concerts

I have now performed the six suites entirely five times in the past month. And I am still as excited and humbled as I was when I started this. Perhaps even more so!

(Convocation Hall at the University of Alberta)

Playing six suites is a mesmerizing experience for both the performer as well as for the audience. When I set out to perform the 6 suites in one concert, I assumed it would be too much for most audiences to do in "one sitting", and the audience who would come to the concerts would probably be a select few.

(warming up before a concert)

I created the idea of performing the suites four times in Edmonton, in 4 different venues, but the audience needed to buy a ticket only once and come and go to each concert as they pleased; perhaps to listen to two suites at the time and come for more a next concert.
I was wrong: audiences came in very large numbers at every concert and most stayed through the entire performances! About 25 people came to all four complete performances, even!

(Robertson Wesley United Church)

Of course performing on four different instruments is very interesting, and people really seemed to enjoy that variety. Don't underestimate the power of the Bach suites though; How could one get up and leave in the middle?!

(All Saints' Anglican Cathedral)

The feedback on the different instruments has been very interesting.
Of course the carbon fibre cello stirs the most debate. No one appears to be neutral on that cello: they either really like it or really dislike it.

(sharing thoughts after the concert)

I was talking to two people after one concert and one person pointed to the carbon and said: " could have left that cello at home". The other person apeared not to have heard that comment and said: "why don't you play them all on that carbon cello; it is so far superiour!"
Those two comments seem to sum up the opinions of all audiences. It is almost funny!

(introducing the carbon fibre cello)

As I introduced the instruments before the suites, I talked mainly about the carbon fibre's perks of being unaffected by humidity, temperature, abuse of airport baggage handlers.
Then, when I started the first bar of the C Major suite, I could predict to hear the stir in the audience."WOW" seemed to be whispered everywhere. Yes: it is loud and clear, that cello!
One audience member found that it sounded "like an over-edited CD; too perfect, no soul". Another found that it was "so easy to listen too; so clear, so soothing".

(the television was interested in my concerts)

The opinions on the Mirecourt (with which I just celebrated my 20th anniversary!) and the baroque cello were not as black or white as on the carbon.

My Mirecourt is initially exactly what people assume a cello sounds like. It looks like a cello, it sounds like a cello. That means that people enjoyed it, but no one gave it much thought either, until the fourth suite.

By that time they had heard the Mirecourt once at the very beginning in the 1st suite; at which time it sounded the way a cello is supposed to sound and they had nothing to compare it with. By now they had heard the baroque cello and the carbon as well and as they listened to this cello again, they compared it with the other two.

(Jasper Yellowhead Museum and Archives)

Now they heard the depth that this cello has, especially after the carbon and even in this most difficult suite, which is in an uncomfortable key on the cello (Eb Major), and the instrument does not ring at its best.
It was at this point in the program that most people started to form strong opinions on the cellos!

With the baroque cello a few people initially had trouble with the fact that it did not project like a modern cello. Or they had difficulty with the vibration of the gut strings, the different types of overtones or the occasional buzz in the string.

They had one more chance to hear the baroque cello, in the 5th suite, with scordatura.

Because of the scordatura (the a-string is tuned down to g), this suite lends itself extremely well for the low baroque tuning. That also meant that people changed their minds on their initial opinion. Had they not felt particularly strong one way or another when I played the 2nd suite on it; "it looks like a cello, sounds like a cello, just a little softer and with a lower tuning and a funny way the cellist plays it without an endpin!"

(the ARTery)

Now that they heard the 5th suite, most people really enjoyed the richness of the overtones (a result of the much lower tension, the gut strings and the instrument itself). Many people commented on the deep sound of the bass notes.

The piccolo was an instrument that everyone loved, without exception. Even some people who are generally sceptical and thought that they preferred the modern cello for the 6th suite, were sold on it.

It truly is an amazing little instrument and I hope to do much more with it. People were surprised at the "silver" sound and clarity of the high strings. It still has plenty of depth as well.

Surprising to me was that it appeared to reach further than the baroque cello, even though it is only 3/4 of the size! Almost everyone commented on the richness of the sound both in the upper as the lower registers.

How does one feel after performing 6 suites? Dizzy, wired, excited, inspired, happy, confused.
I will perform them once more next weekend and then I will record them. I have 12 recording days booked this summer and I am very excited about it!!

(...and how does one fit 4 cellos in a smaller car?)


  1. Thank you Josephine for recording your impressions about your Project and the performances. Reading your thoughts is the next-best thing to being there to listen to you play.
    I am so very happy to hear that you will be recording your Project so that those of us who cannot attend a performance will have the opportunity to hear you play. I hope you will continue to blog about the process.
    A million thank yous for these glimpses into your Project!

  2. I wish I could've been there! Thanks for sharing the entire process online, Josephine - it's been fascinating to follow out here in Toronto. And I'm as excited as Sari (Hi, Sari!) to learn that you'll record the suites. I'll be watching for your announcement of the release date.

  3. I can't tell you how fascinating it has been to follow your project. I found your blog around the time you picked up the Baroque cello, and have thoroughly enjoyed your occasional updates. I'm so glad to hear there will definitely be a recording.

  4. Oops, I meant around the time you got the *piccolo* cello, not the Baroque one. Need more coffee!

  5. Few projects in classical music (or in any of the performing arts) have impressed me as much as your own. If you were a climber, Josephine, you'd be approaching the summit of Mt. Everest. We're so fortunate that the fruits of your work are so much more accessible, and such a pleasure for us all to enjoy. You should be an inspiration for all who discover your talent, your passion.

    David Austen

  6. Very interesting commentary!

  7. Hi Josephine,

    What a great project! As a fellow cellist, I am also aware of the enormous task which is recording (and performing) the Suites. It's another of life's milestones: birth, 16th birthday, college, marriage, have kids, record the Bach Suites. Your choosing to do this in such a unique way is very inspiring. Congratulations and thank you for taking the time to write about it as well!

    All best,
    Julia MacLaine