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 #41 – Oct 17, 2108 Jr. B# Musical Club

At the Jr. B# Musical Club of Central New York, 7 pm

My performance tonight is part of an evening that includes Helden Tenor Jon Frederik West giving a talk about the role of Samson in Camille Saint-Saens’ Samson and Dalilah – a MET Opera HD world-wide theatrical broadcast this Saturday afternoon.

What a great night.  My friend and colleague Jon Frederick West started the evening out with a super presentation on Samson and Dalilah  – MET’s upcoming HD Theatrical Broadcast, this Saturday afternoon.

The tiny room was packed with young musicians, some of whom I have coached in the past – Jr. High and High School players all from within about 50 miles around Utica.  Like this morning, I let the music flow where it would, and in the interests of making an early evening for all, I only took a few of the repeats. 🙂 . Thank you to Sar Strong, Senior Advisor/Coordinator of the Jr. B# Club, for inviting me.


Chaconne #39 – Private performance, Sag Harbor, NY – October 13, 2018

This 39th performance in the Journey of 100 was a house warming concert for Robert, Deborah and their friends.  Before starting, I described my intention through the series of performances to more deeply explore the rapport between a Divine musical work, the listeners and me the performer.  After hearing some of the audience’s response to the music I began to feel in awe of the potential Music has to open connections between us as people because it was clear that folks felt  moved, seemingly more connected with themselves and with the composer’s spirit.

It has been over a year since performance #38 and to be honest, I have not missed the piece.  Yet as I write this morning, I am totally enthused about getting back inside it for the performances coming up this week.

Last night I continued to explore the balance between creative freedom in the timing of the phrases and liberties with the rhythmic pulse (for example how far I might move away from a metronome’s steady beat), and sticking with pulse – the powerful framework in all of Johan Sebastian’s music.  Towards the beginning of playing I felt self conscious at times that I was manipulating the phrases rather than responding to the inner guidance of the music.   

Another aspect that I must rethink is how to handle the repeats written in each of the two sections of the Allemande, Corrente, Sarabande and Gigs (the first four movements) – generally I take the first repeat and not the second.  I wonder if this is somehow undermining the long-form flow of the work because the Ciaconna (the last movement) is a simple flow of variations, with no repeats at all.


Chaconne #40 – Utica College, October 17, 2018 12:30 PM

Program opens with Schumann Sonata #1 in a, Op. 105, with Sar-Shalom Strong, Piano

Utica College Jackson Lunch Hour Series. 12:30P.M.

In my most recent post, I wrote about seeking the balance between pulse and freedom – between expressing Bach’s internal structure and the freedom of flow, in doing so.

I decided for today’s performance to allow my impulse for flow to lead the way.  To be honest I am not certain how I feel about the results, there was a recording made and I will listen.  I do know that I was deep into flow most all of the way through.  I also made both repeats in the Corrente and Giga (this may sound really picky to some of you readers, but it really isn’t) and felt the results were “right”.  There is another performance tonight, so I will se where it all lands.


Chaconne #41 – December 2018 date tba – Private performance NYC


Chaconne #38 – Bennington College, August 11, 2017

I am looking forward to re-connecting with this work that I performed last week with the painters in Tim and Lala’s art studio. Tonight is for a few friends, old and new.

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Tonite was one of the performances for which I did not specially prepare, as I have been working hard all week for the Conference.  My focus was to just let go, and allow the piece to play itself, so to speak.   The hall  without people is very resonant, and I found myself just allowing the tones to have lots of time, so the rhythmic framework was quite free.  I am not sure this is good, nor am I sure it is bad.  I also noticed that a few little errors have crept in here and there and they need to be given some “discipline” to get them back in line.

My next step is to find a way to take my playing of the work from where it is now (pretty good) to a much higher level;  how to do that is not yet clear to me.

2 Comments

  1. Karl Doty
    Posted August 12, 2017 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    I just listened to Shem’s 38th Bach performance on his road to 100 in a darkened hall on the campus of Burlington college – 9:30 pm. A light rain began outside during the performance.

    This is an inspired and inspiring project. I tried to come to the concert with no expectations or preconceived ideas of what to listen for.

    With Shem’s dual goals of attaining 100 performances as well as, over time, losing his sense of ‘being the performer’ of the music, you experience that as a performer, Shem is listening with very open and curious ears. Often in performing, Bach’s solo music, we can analyze and affix rigid ideas to passages and the ideas can tend to take center stage while we lose some of our sensitivity to all of the actual sounds of the music in the moment.

    The most special moments of the performance, for me, were the normal, simple music – in between pyrotechnic passagework. This is where the sense of constant patient listening was most thrilling.

    The majority of the performance was listened to with my eyes closed. The music was beautiful and I didn’t think of the performance at all – just listened to the music. I’d say that’s mission accomplished. Thank you, Shem!

  2. Louise A. Lerner
    Posted August 15, 2017 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much, Shem, for giving us the opportunity to share in this journey with you.

    It was interesting to hear the Chaconne in the context of the entire partita (and I particularly liked the third movement) — but nothing even comes close to having the emotional impact of the Chaconne itself.

    I had wondered about the choice of venue, but it turned out to be perfect. Despite the size of the hall, the performance felt very intimate. Sitting there in the dark, with my eyes closed most of the time, I felt surrounded by the power and beauty of the music in the resonance of the hall.

    This music has such majesty, and yet is also so very personal. It gives one hope for the world, even in its current dismal state.

    When I did open my eyes, and watched you standing there barefoot in the spotlight, pouring your heart and soul into your playing, it nearly brought me to tears. This is what music is all about!

    Thank you, Shem, for a beautiful performance and an unforgettable experience!