Baroque violinist Robert Mealy is presently Director of Juilliard’s distinguished Historic Efficiency Program and co-director of the seventeenth-century ensemble Quicksilver.
Beforehand, he directed the postgraduate Yale Baroque Ensemble and the Yale Collegium Musicum along with instructing at Harvard for over a decade, the place he based Harvard Baroque.
The Violin Channel had the privilege to talk with Mealy about his upcoming position as a jury member of the Lillian and Maurice Barbash J.S. Bach String Competitors.
Open to worldwide string gamers 16 to 30 years of age, the competitors is targeted fully on the unaccompanied string Partitas, Sonatas, and Suites of J.S. Bach. Functions are open now.
How is that this competitors distinctive? Provided that your schedule as a performer/trainer/administrator is already extraordinarily busy: what attracted you to serve on the jury for this competitors?
A contest dedicated to Bach is so particular: his works are endlessly absorbing, and all of us be taught one thing new every time we return to them. In fact, it is a whole lot of work to take heed to all of the entrants with open ears, however every of them has one thing to say, and also you usually discover shocking illuminations into a chunk you thought you knew completely.
Not all of your fellow jurors specialise in Historial Efficiency. How does the jury then attain a consensus given the totally different specialties and aesthetic approaches?
I feel we’re all on the lookout for somebody who has one thing compelling and persuasive to say with this music. You’ll be able to say it in very totally different sorts of how, however the vividness and readability of the musical communication is a very powerful factor.
Being a jury member in a Bach competitors, how crucial is it that rivals carry out in a traditionally knowledgeable approach?
Properly, I feel everyone seems to be enjoying in some sort of traditionally knowledgeable approach already — we’re all working in some sort of custom. As a baroque violinist and trainer, I hope each string participant will discover what 18th-century concepts about efficiency can train them, however that is only one world that Bach inhabits in the present day.
You’ll be able to take into consideration Bach when it comes to what individuals had been doing when he wrote these items, and what his personal sound world was like in Cöthen or Leipzig within the 1720s and 30s. You can even take into consideration how Bach was heard within the nineteenth century, as David and Joachim introduced these works to the live performance stage for the primary time. (Much less vibrato than you may suppose, and much more rubato and portato than we’d discover acceptable in the present day!) You can even take into consideration the nice passionate Russian custom of the early 1900s, 100 years in the past by now, which knowledgeable Galamian’s version of the Sonatas and Partitas: all these are totally different sorts of historic efficiency.
Having stated that, I really feel strongly that in the event you find out about how music was performed in Bach’s time, you will perceive a whole lot of what’s not written within the music, the stuff that he assumed everybody already knew. It helps you uncover tips on how to make dance actions dance, and tips on how to make the musical phrases in an adagio or a fugue sound like elements of a sentence, with questions and solutions, feedback, and parentheses.
I actually discover that interpretations which present some sense of 18th-century aesthetics — of grace, conversational rhetoric, the ability of musical gestures to convey emotion — are extra persuasive than these which deal with this music as an undifferentiated stream of melody. For me, God is within the particulars with Bach, and it appears a pity when individuals miss the chance to take pleasure in these particulars.
However, as I at all times say, the purpose of efficiency in any custom is not about reality, it is about persuasion. I’ve actually been fully persuaded by gamers with a way more Romantic strategy to those items who had been totally dedicated to their interpretation.
As it is your second time on the jury of the Bach competitors, what are you most trying ahead to?
That is my second time on the jury. I really like the collegiality of the jurors, and the chance to listen to so many terribly gifted gamers.
There are such a lot of methods to carry out Bach. What are the core, bare-bone, facets that you just wish to hear in any efficiency?
I feel readability of phrasing is de facto useful, to disclose the celestial equipment of his fugues and the eloquence of his dances as clearly as doable.
How totally different is it to carry out baroque music on fashionable vs interval devices? Are you able to replicate interval sound and magnificence with a contemporary bow and the correct bow approach?
In fact, the fashionable bow was constructed for a really totally different repertoire than Bach: it’s designed for the lengthy, seamless traces of nineteenth-century music. I feel it’s loads simpler to make the music dance with a Baroque bow, since that’s what it was designed to do, however you may actually take the teachings a Baroque bow teaches you and discover methods to appreciate that grace and class with a contemporary bow. Good gamers can do something!
Do you advocate making use of interval changes and strings to fashionable devices?
It actually is determined by how far you need to discover what historic efficiency can train you. The best step to take can also be, in a whole lot of methods, essentially the most enlightening. A very good baroque bow (and so they’re astonishingly reasonably priced nowadays!) might be a tremendous trainer, in some ways. In the event you take heed to what it needs to do, a whole lot of issues reveal themselves.
After that, exploring how plain intestine strings really feel underneath the bow might be immensely rewarding. You uncover that you could be want a slower bow-speed to get the string to reply, and you discover a way more intimate sense of contact between bow and string.
The subsequent step is perhaps to discover what decrease pitch may train you. The resonance of A=415, or fashionable G# could be very totally different from our ordinary good A=440! (And in the event you go even deeper, you will be taught that Bach’s pitch in Cöthen, the place he wrote most of his unaccompanied string music, was round A=392, or fashionable G. That makes the violin sonatas and partitias particularly resonant.)
However in fact, all that is simpler on an instrument in Baroque setup, underneath much less pressure than the fashionable setup.
What assets would you advocate trying into for a scholar fascinated by historic Baroque efficiency? How do you discover essentially the most acceptable lecturers and applications?
There are such a lot of implausible assets on-line now, only a click on away. I used to be amazed in speaking with the Sphinx Academy college students at Juilliard this summer time that a few of these youngsters had already watched, for instance, the Netherlands Bach Society’s implausible movies of “All of Bach,” or listened to Anner Bylsma’s groundbreaking recording of the Bach suites. Entry to info is a lot simpler now!
And in the event you discover this sound-world speaks to you, then you definately undoubtedly ought to spend a summer time week or two summer time immersing your self within the type at an HP workshop: Tafelmusik’s wonderful Baroque Summer time Institute, for instance, or Oberlin’s Baroque Efficiency Institute.
If you cannot get to a workshop, there are some very helpful books on the market. For any Bach participant, I at all times advocate David Ledbetter’s wonderful e-book on “Unaccompanied Bach.” For a common strategy to Baroque string enjoying and aesthetics, Judy Tarling’s wonderfully-named “Baroque String Enjoying for Ingenious Learners” is a good overview.
And there is a good new two quantity set of classes on the Baroque violin by Walter Reiter that’s extraordinarily helpful. There are chapters on the entire vary of Baroque repertoire: early 17c radicals like Fontana and Castello, German virtuosi like Biber, delicate French composers like Couperin. It has nice discussions and workouts on ornamentation and improvisation, and ten in-depth classes on numerous Bach actions.
In a world that’s at all times evolving, how vital is it to maintain alive historic efficiency types?
We’re at such a outstanding second in historical past, when the entire previous is open to us, and we are able to hear what it has to say. That is by no means been the case earlier than. As one in every of my favourite quotes has it, “the previous is one other nation; they do issues otherwise there.” It is so fascinating and rewarding to go to this nation by itself phrases, to attempt to grow to be fluent sufficient to have the ability to perceive all of the totally different musical languages there. And our guidebooks proceed to be rewritten, to incorporate voices which were omitted or silenced, and to search out new methods of speaking about this repertoire and its historical past. The exploration of seventeenth and 18c efficiency apply continues to be a splendidly liberating motion!