Playing suite music: Cellists tackle works of Bach

Photo Ella Schultz
Amateur cellists performed at Bellevue Woman's Center following a week-long workshop in Niskayuna.Photo Ella Schultz Amateur cellists performed at Bellevue Woman's Center following a week-long workshop in Niskayuna.

By Kristin Schultz

Gazette Reporter

NISKAYUNA — Cello music filled the halls of Bellevue Woman’s Center recently when Bach Cello Suites Workshop attendees performed a bevy of Brahms, Bach and more for patients and staff.

The annual Bach Cello Suites Workshop, held Aug. 18, was founded in 2015 by Marc Violette and Margaret Lanoue as a way for adult amateur cellists to deepen their learning and understanding of Bach’s iconic cello suites.

This year, 29 cellists attended the weeklong workshop held at Niskayuna’s Dominican Retreat and Conference Center. Some musicians hailed from the Capital Region while others traveled from as far away as Arizona.

“Cellists love to play the cello suites and put their own stamp on them,” said Lanoue. “It’s open to total interpretation.”

J.S. Bach composed the six suites in the early 18th century, but they were not widely known until nearly 200 years later.

There are no surviving copies that bear his signature. The earliest copies were made by his wife and were originally thought to be drills or studies because they were technically demanding but were barely annotated and contained next to no notations for dynamics.

In 1890, a 13-year old Catalonian boy named Pablo Casals wandered into a music store in Barcelona, where he came across copies of the cello suites. He would practice them for 13 years before performing them.

At the workshop, participants work with instructors to understand and practice both Bach’s suites and other ensemble pieces. The week culminates with simultaneous public performances at hospitals throughout the area.

Jenn Dungan from Scottsville, Virginia, has been to the workshop for three years running.

“I call myself a third-year offender,” Dungan said. “It’s an amazing learning opportunity to study with phenomenal teachers and spend the week with people who are passionate about music and creating community with music.”

In the patient lounge at Bellevue Woman’s Center, three groups of musicians took turns playing a couple of pieces ranging from George Frideric Handel’s lively “Music for the Royal Fireworks” to Samuel Ward’s “America the Beautiful.”

The mini-concert concluded with workshop faculty member Timothy Roberts performing Bach’s Second Cello Suite.