David Watkins once said that the best preparation for playing Bach’s Solo Cello Suites was to perform his 200 cantatas. He should know, having been principal continuo cellist for the Monteverdi Choir’s Bach Cantata Pilgrimage in 2000. ‘There’s no “surface” line in the Bach Cello Suites: the whole fabric of the music grows out of the bass. In each we are dealing with a unified gesture of inventio (idea), elaboratio (structure) decoratio (decoration) and oratorio (performance), so skilfully woven through that the elements cannot be separated.’
‘There’s no “surface” line in Bach’s cello suites, the fabric of the music grows from the bass’
He also points out there was no demarcation between the sacred and the secular in Bach’s work, dance metres permeate his cantatas and Passions just as they do his suites. On Saturday (22 Apr), he’ll be illuminating aspects of the dynamic role of the continuo cellist in a special pre-concert insight event, before a fabulous programme of Bach, Handel and Purcell featuring cellist Alison McGillivray and soprano Julia Doyle.
To complete the story, on Sunday (23 April) he’ll be taking gifted young cellists through each of Bach’s Cello Suites before an audience, looking at how harmonic structures and rhetoric interact with dance elements, ‘unravelling these masterpieces and putting them back together again’. A rare opportunity, indeed, to encounter the man whose own recording of Bach’s Suites won BBC Music Magazine and Gramophone awards, and who has also been such an inspiration to conductors such as Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the late Sir Charles Mackerras.