Journey of 100

If one were to choose one single work that stands out among the rich repertoire for Solo Violin, generation after generation, it could well be the Chaconne by J.S. Bach.  It is a piece that suggests endless depth and profundity.

I am setting out on a journey of discovery: I want to learn how my understanding of this work will develop through the process of performing it 100 times in a row.  These performances will be in normal public venues (the first was at Lincoln Center in May 2012) but also they will be for small groups of interested listeners, colleagues and friends with whom I can explore deeper levels of communication and connectivity. [read more]

Chaconne #30 – Bennington College August 11, 2016 – 10pm

From my perspective, this performance touched into something that is hard to put into words…certainly a sense of me being able to “step back” in part, from “doing” (a state familiar to many musicians and others who perform on a regular basis), the music being organized in a new way…it left me feeling a new sort of freedom within a rhythmic structure, one larger than the measures of the harmonic phrase.

I finally achieved a balance for the Bass voice that I like – one that envelops, or surrounds the listening space and allows me to place the Soprano and Tenor voices in the middle of that space, and give them dynamics and articulations distinct from the Bass voice.

From my perspective, this performance touched into something that is hard to put into words…certainly a sense of me being able to “step back” in part, from “doing” (a state familiar to many musicians and others who perform on a regular basis), the music being organized in a new way…it left me feeling a new sort of freedom within a rhythmic structure, one larger than the measures of the harmonic phrase.

Some of my more creative fingerings that I devised to help create separation of the Soprano, Tenor and Bass voices that are present throughout the work, still present challenges for me. One spot in the Corrente and two in the Gigue. A wee bit more practice time needed here…

Some of my more creative fingerings that I devised to help create separation of the three “voices” (soprano, tenor, bass) that are present throughout the work, still present challenges for me. One spot in the Corrente and two in the Gigue. A wee bit more practice time needed here…

2 Comments

  1. Elizabeth Williams
    Posted August 12, 2016 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    I was transfixed by the otherworldly beauty of the music. It transported my mind to a place that I can only describe as “limitless”. Thank you for sharing Part 30 of your Journey with me, Shem.

  2. Posted November 3, 2016 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Hi, for all time i used to check web site posts here early in the morning, since
    i like to learn more and more.


Chaconne #29 – Bennington College August 4, 2016 – 10pm

 

Well this performance was one of the best yet overall. The right attitude and expression in the opening movement (Allemande), unity of flow through the entire work, and assimilation of the fingerings I use to clarify the various voices in fast technical passages (Corrente and Gigue), so that they “disappear” (meaning you can’t hear them you only hear the music) – all these were just “there”. Still some internal confusion in musical organization of the 2nd part of the Gigue, that led to small errors, some three-voice measures in the Chaconne that were screwed up. I can tackle those this week and see where we are in next week’s performance.

It has been a year since the last one. Not for any particular reason, however. I just have been focussing on the two other Partitas – in b and E – and establishing the independent characters of the three Fugues.

 

2 Comments

  1. Seth Novatt
    Posted August 8, 2016 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    A deeply personal experience. Together with two others in a performance hall, the emptiness of the space just heightened the emotions of this incredibly profound work. Shem did a womnderful job navigating the emotional range of the work,and as expected, provided some new interpretations of various passages.

    A very special way to hear this masterpiece

  2. Emma Barrett
    Posted August 10, 2016 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    I’ve heard the Chaconne many times, performed by fine musicians in some spectacular locations and been moved by each experience. So I figured I had a reasonable idea of what to expect when I was invited to hear Shem play the work on the 4th.
    I was wrong!
    Shem’s command of the work is evident and indisputable. But his idea (as he explained) that the entire Partita (including the chaconne) is the expression of a single idea/thought/thread, brought a coherence and expressive power to the performance which I hadn’t yet heard.
    I was also struck by the effect of the entire format of the performance. The seemingly small act of taking a seat with us-the lucky few listeners-after playing the work to share his experience of what had transpired, and to listen to ours, changed the event from a conventional,even memorable performance to a rare, powerful moment genuinely shared by all of us, together.
    Thank you Shem!


Chaconne #tba – The Explorers Club 2/13/2017

Presented jointly with Dr. Dorit Donoviel, Deputy Chief Scientist, National Biomedical Research Lab.

6pm Drinks, 7 pm Presentation/performance at The Explorers Club

46 East 70th Street

NY, NY 10021

 

 


Chaconne #28 – August 14, 2015

Private performance while serving as Artist Faculty at Bennington Chamber Music Conference.  Greenwall, Auditorium, Bennington College, Vermont 10:30pm

The work is certainly changing, literally under my own hands.   Allemande, Corrente, Sarabande, Gigue, Chaccone: deep within that one continuous flow of thoughts and feelings some core element is starting to emerge, beginning to come to my awareness. Look to this page for more on this in the next months.

Bach’s 3 and 4 independent voices are starting to emerge more clearly and simply through my bow; that’s great, makes me think of being able to more easily apply that bow technique to the three Fugues.

Thank you to my friends and colleagues for sharing this late night Passage after a long day and week of work.

 


Chaconne #27 – August 7, 2015 Bennington, Vermont

Tonite, 10:30 pm in Greenwall Auditorium on the campus of Bennington College.

2 Comments

  1. Phil Coonce
    Posted August 8, 2015 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Greenwall 8/7/15

    Open vault, a cathedral’s vast arc
    Contained in space, but beckoning the Infinite,
    Become the ambient chamber
    of Eternity’s expression in time.

    A fiddle and its guide,
    with two listening vessels,
    Shorn of formalism and absent of artifice,
    All reliquaries of Bach’s communion.

    The human dimension—
    Stately Allemande, rugged Courante, sorrowful Sarabande and gamboling Gigue—
    Each an unfolding of the tetrachordal descent,
    Limited by style, and constrained by cadence.

    The divine Chaconne—
    Tetrachordal Descent now not as limit, but as progenitor of infinite variation.
    4 bars of rising inspiration, 4 bars of falling expiration,
    Peripatetic figures exploring endless chains of rhythm.

    One theme, but three sections—
    Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
    Or: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva (Or: Wotan, Thor, and Fricca; Zeus, Poseidon, and Adonis)
    All manners of approaching the infinite,
    Standing in the Shadows of the Sacred.

    After the final cadence,
    a fiddle, its guide and two listening vessels
    Left in sweet silence to
    Wander to wonder.

  2. sgwp_a1
    Posted August 8, 2015 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Phil, thank you for such an eloquent tribute.

    Part of the Journey of 100 is to share my thoughts and feelings about the performance with my listeners, writers and readers. Phil’s poem takes me back to my previous performance, #26, and the deep, thoughtful comments written by my hosts Robert and Deborah. A detailed and meaningful discussion took place in their living room after that performance, of associating a specific “story” – emotion, feeling, or narrative – with each bar of the music, using the “story” as a vehicle to move into deeper relationship with the music while performing the work. Combined with Deborah and Robert’s words about the struggle of Job and the power of Divine Love, I was left mute, needing to contemplate and reflect. Over the past months something has changed.

    Last night’s performance was for me a breakthrough in it’s ease and integration with which I could present Bach’s immense musical canvas. It was among the best I have ever done. Perhaps I am beginning to understand:

    In my early 20’s I was playing as as an extra for the MET Opera National Tour. One morning in Memphis I was sitting at the counter of a local diner ordering breakfast, and cellist Yves Chardon plopped himself down right next to me – I barely knew who he was other than that he was venerated by all musicians in the orchestra. At the time he seemed as old as Methusaleh, though he was probably only 90-something and able to play a completely smooth spiccato chromatic scale from the bottom to the top of his Cello – with one finger! – on a moment’s notice.

    Without saying a word (maybe good morning? I don’t remember) he took a paper napkin a wrote with a ball point pen on it the following letters: G O D = L O V E. I looked at his bright, bright pale blue eyes, could not figure out what he wanted or why he did that, and got out of there as quickly as I could.

    Now I understand a little more and can better appreciate the gift he shared. I suspect Bach certainly did.