Perspectives: The four performers comment individually on their experiences with the music of J.S. Bach, and on the making of this recording.
Joshua: All art forms have the capacity to express the human experience. And music, no matter what its style or period or usage, communicates with a power all its own.
Bach's embrace of humanity was metaphysical. His culture held deep and mystical beliefs about numbers and their universal meanings, respected classical ideals about the power of persuasive speech, and experimented with alchemy and its promise to transform everyday matter into gold (a process that carried philosophical and spiritual connotations). Each of these elements empowered Bach to create musical archetypes, clues that allowed his listeners to understand and make connections to their own lives.
Using deep symmetries of structure, expressive rhetorical gestures, and daring manipulations of tonality, Bach strove to render the human experience in sound. He did so fervently and with grace, creating an art that impresses us with its great form, rhythmic scope, gesture, and color. At the deepest level, his music speaks to us because it holds out the alchemical promise that we can transform all of these devices into inspiration in our imaginations.
Jory: Musicians could hardly find a more fertile meeting ground than Bach's music. The democratic aspect of his compositions and of baroque polyphony in general, with one musical line being the equal of the others, and various conversations taking place at any given moment, is a perfect metaphor for human relations: one or the other voice now leading, now responding, now commenting, with two of those voices (the harpsichord and cello) forming a unified front.
Joshua Smith and I met only a few years ago, but immediately found the shared musical affinities of old friends. Reading, performing, and finally recording J.S. Bach's sonatas for flute with obbligato harpsichord together brought us to a higher level of friendship. Perhaps this would have been the case regardless of repertoire. Yet Bach always summons us to the highest plane of musical dialogue, demanding our full attention to detail, and demanding all players’ full attention to each other. For this new recording, we added to our equation two of my longstanding friends, Ann Marie Morgan and Allison Guest Edberg, which was a joyous experience. I cannot imagine a happier encounter.
Ann Marie: I have always been drawn to the music of Bach. Even as a child, and especially as a teenager, I found that his music transported me to a place of peace and belonging. It made sense to me structurally and moved me emotionally. When I performed Bach for others, they told me that they had the same experience.
When Joshua, Jory, Allison, and I gathered to play Bach’s Musical Offering, we were a new combination of musicians, working together as a quartet for the first time. There were layers of connections, beginning with our own individual relationships to our musical lines and extending to our notions of how these lines might be woven together to create a connection to the piece overall. We delighted in discovering new friendships in this process, as well as rekindling older ones. And Bach’s music was at the root of it all, holding us together and towering over us, making sense to us and moving us, providing us with opportunities for connection to humanity and spirituality.
Allison: When I met Ann Marie Morgan at the Aspen Music Festival in 1981, we were traveling on the roads where young musicians find themselves: to festivals, conservatories, teachers, and coaches, all in an effort to make audible the beauty in our heads. Coincidentally and luckily, we both transferred from our respective schools to Peabody the following fall. There we met Jory Vinikour, a freshman pianist with a wicked sense of humor. In the years following our time together in Baltimore, our paths occasionally crossed, and we would always find great empathy and deep communication when we were together.
Years later enter Joshua Smith. Thanks to Jory’s recommendations and Joshua’s courage, we gathered in Cleveland and found that 30 years apart can be erased in a minute or two, and that music creates ways to connect with new friends immediately and powerfully. That is the magic of chamber music, in particular music as great as Bach’s. There could have been barriers between us: time, distance, age, even modern instruments combining with baroque ones. It could have been awful, but it worked beautifully.
My father often says, “Musicians are nicer than people.” I think it is just that focusing on a beautiful and noble project puts rose-colored glasses squarely on our heads. We are looking for goodness, and we find it. Those who fed us, those who recorded us, those who tuned and listened and drove us around were all part of the joy of this project. I am so grateful to them. And to those who let me join them on this road for a time, thank you.