Chaconne #45 – Private Home, Austin Texas

It has been over a year since my last performance of this great work, and there could not be a more perfect setting than my friends’ home. This past year of semi-isolation and reflection has been a gift for my violin playing, with regular focussed practice without interruption producing a refined harmony between Music and my spirit, body and instrument. A change in the position in which I hold the violin, and a practiced integration with allowing bones and tendons to do the work of playing  (as opposed to muscles), has facilitated the articulation of the three – occasionally four – voices that are at the heart of Bach’s writing for the solo violin.  This is what I have been striving for since the beginning of the project.

In musical terms I found myself once again exploring the freedom of pulse in the Sarabande and the Chaconne…meaning I allow a phrase to have it’s own speed and character according to the musical inspiration of the moment – linking the flow of the inner pulse to the relationship between the tones of the bass line. 

I cannot say how gratifying it is and how happy I am to play for my friends – live and in-person!

7 responses to “Chaconne #45 – Private Home, Austin Texas”

  1. Shem what an incredibly special gift you have – thank you for sharing it with us at our home. I felt transported back to my childhood and hearing my mother play Bach and Beethoven on the piano. At one point in your performance I also envisioned Moses parting the Red Sea and the Children of Israel walking across with the fury of the sea waiting to crash in on them but seeing them safely through to the other side. Not sure where that came from but the music took me there….and to other places that were peaceful as well. You surely have a gift. A never to be forgotten evening with you and Bach.

  2. Bill Jones says:

    It was a perfect evening – a lovely home surrounded by stately oak trees awash in dim crepuscular light and the Heavenly music of Bach played beautifully by our new friend Shem. Thanks for sharing your gift with us.

  3. Anton Nel says:

    It was a wonderful evening, highlighted by Shem’s beautiful playing of the Bach Chaconne — truly balm for the soul.

  4. Elena Goyanes says:

    Dear Shem,

    I am so pleased to have met you and heard you play the beautiful Chaconne. In the intimacy of our friends’ home Bach’s emotions felt so personal. The first four parts wild with passion, the fifth grief and, finally, peace. It reflected my own recent journey with grief.

    Thank you. Your new friend, Elena.

  5. sgwp_a1 says:

    Thank you all so much – your friendship and appreciation is a balm to the soul after the havoc of the pandemic. No doubt you have read George’s deeply thoughtful article that I will add in to this blog.

  6. sgwp_a1 says:

    https://geopoliticalfutures.com/an-evening-with-bach/

    (below posted with permission of Geopolitical Futures)

    By George Friedman – May 14, 2021
    Open as PDF
    A friend of ours, Shem Guibbory, who is a violinist with the MET Orchestra in New York, came to our house last week for dinner. He agreed to play Bach’s Chaconne for an audience of us and a few other friends. I do not have an ear for music, but I kept thinking that this is how God sounded during the creation of the world. The music had a perfect order that could be seen only by gazing deeply into what appeared at first to be disorder. It struck me as extraordinary that a human being was able to capture God’s spirit on a piece of wood.

    My business is the relation of order to disorder. Nations appear to be disorderly things, but for me there is deep order inherent to them. When one nation encounters another, the sound it makes is the cacophony of conflict. Yet in it is an order of necessity, which is the truth underlying the noise. Necessity, the constraints that compel a nation forward, seems chaotic, but from the chaos we can comprehend and even predict the direction of nations.

    That I would claim any right to a piece of Bach’s transcendent music or my friend’s superb delivery is of course the hubris you all put up with. But my goal here is not to discuss the divine tedium of being human but to consider how that tedium and Bach’s brilliance must give us a sense of God.

    God is not a subject ever lightly taken, especially in our time, where suspicion of speaking of God is rampant. The Enlightenment was a celebration of nature, man and science. There was room for God as a courtesy. As the Enlightenment turned into modern science, the idea of an infinite God, the cause of all things, ceased to be the common cultural belief, overwhelmed as it was by the idea that all things human and universal were the product of matter. Science never denied the orderliness of nature but could not concede that what some call intelligent creation and others think of as God’s handiwork might be the origin of the order of the universe, of the political world or of human life. Science based on causation and the mere existence of order does not make the case for a force responsible for that order. For science, but not necessarily the scientist, the origin of the order cannot be known.

    But when I listened to Bach, I encountered an order surreal in its complexity, seductive if I stopped trying to dissect it and simply capitulated to it. At that point I found beauty. Beauty is a concept that is difficult to grasp. It is said to be a matter of taste and therefore the creature of taste and nothing more. But when I listened to Bach and watched the violinist draw the sounds through his bow, I realized both that this is beauty, and that if the beholder does not recognize this, then he is in some sense crippled. Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder but in the eye of the universe.

    And when speaking of beauty, it is necessary to discuss a subject that is not appropriate to speak of in polite company: death. There are those who believe that physical death does not end life. There are those who argue that death annihilates life and consciousness. The former believe this to be a matter of faith, the latter a matter of science. For me, faith is something anyone can claim and build on it any edifice he desires. Who knows what’s true? But it is the materialistic definition of the world, and of death, that I find most troubling, and the trouble is embedded in Bach. How could a human being conceive of such sounds and construct the music? How can I pretend to understand the working of nations? How can the mind of any human being be filled with the extraordinary things it is filled with? Each of us in an hour encounters in his mind things he has seen, will see, or cannot see because nothing else like it exists. Each of us in that hour feels love, anger, lust and depression. Our minds are filled with the prosaic and the uncanny, and we live within that space expecting it to be so.

    The brain is said to be the origin of thought, and all thought originates therefore in our bodies. But I know that I, George Friedman, can choose to think of things at will. Some might say that the brain generated the thought. It might contain that thought in its folds and crannies, but the brain cannot generate the complexity of thoughts that I think, because I feel myself choosing to think them, and because I experience them. The brain might be the retainer of thought, but there is an “I” here, and I know that I have chosen this word to write and that word originated from me. I may be delusional, but I think not. I might be an automaton, but Bach could not simply have been a channel for brain tissue to express the chemicals it generates.

    If there is an “I” independent of the brain, then I can understand how Bach could have willed his music into existence. He chose to do so out of love for the beautiful. If that is so, then Bach was greater than his body, and when the container of Bach’s genius is broken, is Bach destroyed or is he free? Obviously, I am playing with the idea that there are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophies. I don’t pretend to understand the universe, and I find even myself puzzling. But the idea that the rich complexity of thought and emotion is a product of the brain strikes me as simplistic. A more elegant explanation is that there is a soul, good or evil as it chooses, that cannot be contained in the Enlightenment.

    This strange wandering into metaphysics does not depart from politics. The soul of one might be chaotic. The souls of many have in them a certain logic, not because they are the mechanistic production of appetites and manufactured thoughts, but because, like the universe, there is an order beneath the chaos, and in looking for constraints, I need to look more deeply. Yes, there are constraints, but they constrain more than the body. They constrain the wildness of our minds, a wildness we share with each other. The freedom of the soul struggles against the limits of the body in everyone in orderly ways. There is order to a nation, and it seems to be that wild currents are only at the surface.

    I may be completely wrong about the world, and maybe there is nothing more than my appetite driving me. But just as scientists insist on causation, I must explain Bach. How could he compose a song that elevates us into places that I thought did not exist. How can this exist in the world – and it does – as a matter of material causality rather than as a man choosing to see the uncanny?

    I can’t get there from the Enlightenment, and I fear claiming I know more than I do. I am already far away from my yard. Yet listening to Bach forces me to rethink what I do, and the universe itself. I think Bach intended that to be the case.

    https://geopoliticalfutures.com/an-evening-with-bach/

    • sgwp_a1 says:

      George, thank you for writing so well of these powerful, subtle threads. I would like to add a few thoughts.

      As listeners we all may, from time to time, have the opportunity to experience music that offers access to areas of mind and Spirit – God if you will – areas into which we might not be able to just “drop in” in the course of our day-to-day affairs. Music in general and this work in particular. My job is to participate with you, Meredith and your friends as a listener-in-chief, and allow that Music to flow through me. My violin and bow were designed to be near-perfect conduits for that flow, and years of training have allowed me to adapt my body to their imperatives and constraints. (I couldn’t resist that phrase :).

      Yes, the Enlightenment covered a lot of ground, yet we might expand that ground if we turn to Sir Isaac Newton who considered Natural Philosophy (Science), as pathway for greater knowledge of God. English poet Alexander Pope’s epitaph comes to my mind: “Nature and Nature’s laws lay hid in night: God said, Let Newton be! and all was light.”

      The Quantum world view has altered that completely, and perhaps opens the possibility for a deep understanding of how Music and Art can have such a profound impact on us.

      In our time Christoph Wolff, a renowned musicologist, with dedicated scholarship and consideration, portrays J.S. Bach as aspiring to do in Music that which Newton did in Science – creating in effect, pathways for a greater knowledge of God. (It must also be said that Mr. Wolff’s contemporary, the emminent musician and conductor John Elliot Gardiner, seems to pooh-pooh that notion).

      As for me, I get to study at the Source: the tones, vibrations and feelings as codified by Master J.S. Bach himself, and they take me very far, indeed. An Old Testament scene, the inevitability of death, the grace of a higher vision in the face of that (apparently) greatest loss, the possibility of redemption…all and more are within those tones.

      From my perspective Geopolitics absolutely has an intrinsic relationship to Arts. Ideas cross lands and waters in the minds and hearts of persons who are the actors of Nations. Bach had his extended family acting as his “internet” – they sent him the latest musical ideas from across the courts of Europe. Beauty is far more than a matter of taste: art and music from diverse cultures, even cultures that show no trace at all of direct or indirect contact, often show similar beauty, tell stories, convey emotions, that are profoundly human at their root. This ties in, I believe with your phrase “[within] the souls of many…like the universe…there is an order beneath the chaos”.

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