Journey of 100

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 responses to “Chaconne #29 – Bennington College August 4, 2016 – 10pm”

  1. Seth Novatt says:

    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 says:

    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



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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.


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Chaconne #27 – August 7, 2015 Bennington, Vermont

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

2 responses to “Chaconne #27 – August 7, 2015 Bennington, Vermont”

  1. Phil Coonce says:

    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 says:

    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.

Chaconne #26 – April 6, 2015 Private home NYC

I am very excited to be playing for one of my dear creative colleagues next Monday.  Since the last Chaconne (#25, 12/28/2014) I have been focussed on moving my residence, and have allowed the Bach to lie fallow through the deep winter.

Now it is Spring, and I am coming back to the Bach after these few months’ hiatus; I am finding a new level of understanding, particularly in terms of tempo and rhythmic organization, choosing to explore specific influence from two great Maestros with whom I have worked at the MET for many years.  More on that later!

7 responses to “Chaconne #26 – April 6, 2015 Private home NYC”

  1. Good luck on all fronts, Shem.

  2. lucky people in NYC april 6 (how can they even imagine what perfomances we heard befoer

  3. Julian Zelizer says:

    Shem brought the sorrow and turbulence of Bach’s piece to life. In the intimate setting of a NYC living room. Shem conveyed the struggles that seemed to have shaped Bach as he wrote this piece at a difficult moment of his life. At certain points, Shem managed to make his instrument sound as if there were several violinists playing at once. The physicality of the performance was also quite moving.

  4. Robert Schenkkan says:

    A fantastic evening! So thought-provoking and so moving. The opportunity to hear great music played with extraordinary skill in an intimate setting is sadly so rare. There was such a sense of communion and immediate community in the sharing of this experience. And to sit so close to Shem, to hear the physical effort that goes into the performance. One could almost see the sound waves vibrating across the room. And while I have heard The Chaconne before, never have I payed such close attention. If it is indeed an anguished dialogue between the grieving composer and his God, it is a complex multi-layered one, worthy of Job.

  5. Deborah McDermott says:

    Shem, it was such an honor to experience your Chaconne in our private world of good friends and family. I personally adore that we were number 26 (one of my two lucky numbers!)

    I related to your comment about getting lost in your performance…how nothing else exists during those moments. I would imagine that during those moments you are feeling love….. love of life, love of your gift. And the beauty of that is that we, your audience, find ourselves immersed in that same feeling of “love”.

    Thank you, Deborah