Tag Archives: Bach

Steven Isserlis: Bach Suites, Pt. II @ St Hilda’s College (13.02.16)



Suite No. 3 in C major – Bach

Souvenir de Balatonboglár – Kurtág

In Memoriam Ferenc Wilhelm – Kurtág

Suite No. 2 in D minor – Bach

Schatten – Kurtág

In Memoriam Gyorgy Kroó – Kurtág

Suite No. 6 in D major – Bach

He has the perfect cello, the perfect bow, and the perfect music. It’s the dream formula, so what could give acclaimed cellist Steven Isserlis such deep trepidation?

Bach’s Six Unaccompanied Cello Suites are to a musician what Hamlet is to an actor. They are the pinnacle of art and endurance, and the ultimate test of technique, strength and musicianship. Bach’s minimal performance markings leave much to interpretation, but with such artistic freedom comes great pressure. The language of the Suites can be told a thousand times in a thousand ways, and the permutations of interpretation and dialect are infinite. Lifetimes are spent drawing out each voice and personality within the dance movements. Fashions develop, tastes shift and interpretations evolve. Minds are constantly changing.

To many the Suites are the purest music ever written. There’s no work more inspiring, or more terrifyingly exposed. As the lone medium, only you can go wrong, and there’s nowhere to hide. To top it off, there’s a very real risk of physical and mental exhaustion. No wonder Isserlis has held off the performance for a decade.

Thankfully musical fitness comes with the territory of a professional soloist, although the programme was still wisely split across two performances. Last night saw the Jacqueline du Pré Building of St Hilda’s College fill in anticipation of the concluding-half. The courageous cellist entered boldly, and settled alone under the lights.

Isserlis brimmed with the passion and enthusiasm that he’s famed for. His animated movements mirrored the music’s dialogue: smiling, dancing and crumpling with its contours. Each movement, be it Sarabande, Bouree or Gavotte, demands effortless fluidity, whilst often being incredibly awkward to navigate. This was no problem for Isserlis’ stunning technique, but delicacy and precision were at times sacrificed for speed. Overall however, the broad strokes of his approach painted the larger musical picture beautifully.

In celebration of his friend Gyorgy Kurtág’s 90th birthday, Isserlis interspersed the programme with short pieces by the Hungarian composer. Like Bach, they hold tonality strongly at their core, but differ refreshingly in style. Striking but unobtrusive, they added new depths of field to the familiar format of the masterpieces.

In discussing the Suites (see below), Isserlis remarked that “my task is to let the music flow through me unhindered”, “we have to let the beauty through, as a window lets through light”. True to his word, his approach was as illuminative as it was humble. The meditative simplicity of the opening D minor Prelude (2nd suite) set this modest precedent. Instead of the customary embellishing of its final chords, Isserlis chose a pure, untouched sound, presenting the harmonies’ beauty without distraction.

Crucially, it was not a performance of Isserlis playing Bach, but rather of Bach played by Isserlis. He was his charismatic self, but served as vessel with total selflessness. Even his encore (Catalonian folk tune ‘Song for the Birds’) threw the spotlight elsewhere. With this ode to Casals, the cellist who brought the Suites fame, Isserlis rounded off a remarkable performance.

The last word came not from the man, but his cello, which with a helping hand, took the final bow.


The Kaya Quartet at The BFlat Bar





This is a line-up that I thought I’d never see – with Arati Rao on Vocals, Aman Mahajan on the piano, Sharik Hassan on Organ, and Adrian D’Souza on Drums. Being a jazz keyboard player myself, when I first heard that Sharik and Aman were going to be on stage together, I knew that I HAD to see this show. And I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that this happened to be one the best jazz shows I’ve attended this year.

BFlat, as always, was very welcoming, with an amazing line-up of tracks to set the mood before the band came up on stage. This is a pretty important aspect that many venues overlook. When the band took the stage, they jumped right into their first track with a bombastic instrumental Bossa tune. I was completely floored by this track. It looked completely improvised and each of them played through it so well. D’Souza was holding a solid groove without being obtrusive, while Sharik’s insane bass section blew me away instantly. Of course I partially attribute the awesomeness of the organ (no pun intended) to the Nord Electro 3, and I don’t think Sharik would disagree. The first track reminded me of how amazing the mix always is at BFlat. And as every musician knows, a great mix makes a huge difference to what the audience hears, and in turn how the band plays.

The set moved on to some jazz standards – D’Souza really came to the front with this tune. His drum bombs really killed it. Kenny Clarke would’ve been proud. Not too many drummers have the opportunity to use this technique in the context of jazz in India, and it’s nice to see that it’s not a dead art form. After all the three of them went through their solos, they started trading lines of 8 bars each. It was amazing to watch them do it so effortlessly, each of them displaying such maturity in the lines that they chose.

Arati Rao jumped into the set with the third tune with ‘Route66‘, a Bobby Troupe classic. The rendition seemed to be that of Nat King Cole’s, with even the pronunciation being very reminiscent of his recording of the tune. Right through the track, all I could imagine was his broad, toy-like grin. I was even half expecting Arati to imitate that legendary smile. Arati killed the intro to the tune with her amazing scat – very tight.

The set moved rather quickly from here, being all vocal driven tracks, some of the more popular tracks were ‘So Nice’, ‘Someone who’ll watch over me’ and ‘All or nothing at all’. I have a whole bag of superlatives to describe each of these tracks, which I won’t do for brevity’s sake.

The band proceeded to pay tribute to Amy Winehouse. In light of her untimely demise, it seemed fitting, especially with Arati’s amazing vocal range. With a beautiful Bach-esque intro from Sharik, the band played ‘Back to Black’, which moved me tremendously. I truly miss that beast of a musician! Amy, we will always remember you.

Towards the end, Arati invited Priya Mendens to the stage. Priya was introduced as a veteran singer from Mumbai, and the rest of us needed no introduction to Priya. Priya sang ‘All of Me’ with the trio backing her up. Priya is a completely different kind of singer in comparison to Arati. Her tone is rich and classic, reminescent of Sarah Vaughn, while Arati has a more contemporary clear voice. Priya did an amazing job with the jazz standard. I was pleasantly surprised by her improvised scat while the boys were soloing – quite remarkable.

I was very impressed with the band. I remember seeing Arati Rao doing a track with TAAQ long ago at B-Flat. She is amazingly talented; I’m hoping to see her do more gigs. Every time I see Adrian D’Souza play, he surprises me. Just when I think that I’ve seen what he can do, he comes back with more! Having seen the Sharik Hassan Trio a couple of years back, I would say that this show definitely did not highlight Sharik’s ability, but then again if you knew where to look, he did display his skill from time to time, hidden in little changes or voicings here and there. Through the whole show, I was floored by Sharik’s bass-lines. They were not too obvious, yet not too easy, just the right amount to fill up the bass section while leaving room for his right hand to think independently. With Aman, I haven’t really seen him put in such a tight spot before, in terms of his role to the entire sound. Of course, I’m not taking away from his ability, merely commenting that this was the first time I’ve seen him in a minimalistic line-up. And he truly held up very well. A lot of sections were very Chick Corea-esque, while some reminded me of Kenny Barron. Berklee has produced another master-class musician for the Indian jazz scene.

Overall, I was immensely pleased with the entire gig: the mix, the musicians, the set-list, everything! Each of them brought something important to the table, without themselves being obvious. That is truly the sign of amazing musicians.

Bharath Kumar

Bharath Kumar, besides being a full-time geek, is a keyboard player and music producer. He runs his own studio, Minim Sound Labs www.minimsoundlabs.com, and is an active volunteer in various charities.


The Maulbronn Musical Miracle





Saturday, the 5th of March 2011, the Nathaniel School of Music conducted a choir workshop at the All Saints’ Church, Bangalore. The workshop was conducted by the members of the Maulbronn Seminar Choir , Germany, led by world renowned conductor, Jürgen Budday.

Jürgen Budday conducts three different choirs and has been a music instructor for 32 years in the Maulbronn Seminar, Germany. Twenty five students of his sixty two members of the choir accompanied him here, where he spoke to the audience on the importance of vocal techniques and voice toning exercises.

German Music has always been an inspiration for pioneering music from the baroque period through the classical era with legends like Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert and Mozart. Classic operas, chorales and oratorios were heavily patronized and popularized by orchestras, choirs and conductors of bygone Germany. Therefore watching this choir as their four-part harmonies transported us into their world was the most delightful experience.

Even more wonderful was the fact that this choir comprised of prodigious high school-goers who not only held music scores but could read them too! Each of them was trained in either vocal or instrumental music apart from their regular syllabus at the Seminar. The finesse and brilliance of the music-making here is breathtaking. It is a high school just like any other except, here every 10th and 11th grade student is a part of this spectacular choir. Students are encouraged and trained in the genre of music that they choose to pursue. From traditional oratorios, that the children swear to uphold, to modern metal, one could find a patron of almost every kind of music in that bunch of enthusiasts. Yorick Fischer, one of the bass singers with the choir went on to say, “A very good thing about Maulbronn is that you can have all kinds of music at one place. For instance, I am a brutal death metal fan and a drummer and at Maulbronn, I can take professional growling lessons, professional screaming lessons. So one is not restricted to take up choral music alone.

The discipline and passion of every singer and the 14-year old Ruediger Garhoefer who accompanied them on the piano truly had us all smiling as they sang the lovely ‘Canon‘ and their own rendition of a song called ‘Sing Acapella’. Awestruck, we asked the conductor about their practice schedules to which he replied, “We meet regularly once a week. But if a performance is on the cards, then we have intensive practice sessions for 3 full days. At Maulbronn, the music never ceases. You will find students singing all around the school in their free time.

Our desire to be able to sing like that with them was fulfilled only moments later, when after engaging in a couple of odd looking exercises, the crowd discovered their voices and sang, “doo ba doo doo sing acapella” with the choir. The youngest of them all, the 14 year old pianist, took a little session on piano playing techniques following which a young violinist too educated us on his intriguing instrument. He went on to perform a classic violin piece that everyone was delighted to witness.

The youngsters exhibited their skills at not only singing but also in dancing later that evening, as they spiritedly attempted to learn a few techniques of Indian Classical dance from the troupe of classical dancers who performed for them. A casual evening of cultural mixing like no other, the joy, acceptance and appreciation were not lacking on either side, while my uplifted mind lay wrapped in wonder of the Miracle of Music that binds us all together even in this World.