Expecting the traditional concerts where a soloist enters the stage and immerses himself with his repertoire, 35-year old cellist, Zuill Bailey, guest artist of South Carolina’s Governor’s School of the Arts and Humanities, surprised Greenville residents with a unique performance entitled “An Evening with Bach” .
With Bailey’s strong resemblance to Hollywood actor Antonio Banderas, it appeared that the crowd was watching a movie with Banderas acting as a concert cellist. He immediately put his listeners at ease by going away from the traditional aquarium-like feeling when one watches a concert. Unless there is a fish doing an extraordinary feat, Bailey claimed that the musical experiences remain passive in most classical music events.
The three major elements that characterized the evening concert were the following: getting to know Bailey, the artist performer; the rare, impeccable sound of Bailey’s 1693 Matteo Gofriller cello; and the cello masterpieces of Johann Sebastian Bach, the featured composer.
Justifying the love affair with his cello, Bailey narrated playing the instrument at a tender age of 4. He explained the many attributes of the cello including its huggable shape and size. He continued to say that cellos, unlike other strings instrument, have unique warm, rusty character with a wide range of tone. Bailey’s passion for his 1693 Gofriller cello seems pretty evident.
Bailey informed the audience that many modern cellists avoid Bach’s work because there was hardly any manuscript on it. Bach composed many of his work in his instrument, the pipe organ. Should an artist play it in its raw authentic Baroque form that does not appeal to modern aesthetic taste? Bailey reminded us that Baroque musicians also had a different idea on what a beautiful sound was. Thus, Baroque cellists have different musical aim. Either way, Bailey settled to merge the technical beauty of Bach Cello Suites with his humble conviction and style.
Bailey announced that in performing Bach’s Suite No. 3 in C Major, he associated each movement with the local food and sights in the area where the music originated. Each Suite is composed of movements that are patterned after 16th or 17th Century dances (except the preludes). Each has a characteristic rhythmic feel. In preparing to play the Bach Cello Suites, he admitted his dilemma in interpreting it from a Romantic era impulse.
In the first movement, Bailey points out that Allemande is a German dance. In Frankfurt, he recalls the huge tables in the German pub, gigantic-sized beer mugs, large utensils, large food portions and the heavy set physique of the German cooks and waiters. He took his bow and played the cello with his imagination focused on the bigness of his culinary experience in Germany. The bow flew effortlessly heavy and forceful down on the C String.
In the second movement, Bailey indicated that Courante is a French Dance. He introduced Paris cafes as contrasting greatly from Germany. Food portions in the French cafï¿½s were incredibly small. But the dining experience was elegant. Using these visualizations, Bailey played the second movement with much grace and precision. His fingers skipped playfully up and down the fingerboard in every scale displaying technical virtuosity at all times.
In the third movement, Bailey narrated briefly that Sarabande a Spanish Dance. He stood up to demonstrate how the dance involves a lot of curtsy movements with bowing. Bailey’s attack on this movement was soft, lyrical, and flowing.
In the fourth movement, Bailey brought the listeners to Russia through Bourree 1 & 2. He told the crowd on how he imagines Russia’s famous Red Square. In his visit, he was surprised to know that Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Moscow. Bailey’s impression on the Bourree is likened to Napoleon city abandoned after a mass evacuation. He envisions Napoleon marching on Red Square, arrogant and haughty. He played this movement acting out a semblance of intensity and overconfidence. He used large melodic range and many leaps, typical of the polyphonic melody of the Baroque era.
In the last movement called Gigue, Bailey speaks of the Irish dance. Being Irish himself, he fumes at the squabbles of Irish family reunions when everything turns into heated, intense meetings. He played this movement with many emotions taking the audience to the edge. Bailey gradually built momentum increasing tempo and volume.
What made his performance stand out? He connected Bach’s music to the senses of the young crowd. The audience got a glimpse of Bach and experienced the Suite’s mood with his clever strategy. With honesty, he informed the crowd on the variety of arguments that plagued classical music industry in the performance of Bach Cello Suites.
After he played the 6 Preludes of the Suites, there was no doubt that the crowd enjoyed his performance. The audience gave Bailey a pounding standing ovation. Capping the evening with a wealth of information, it is unimaginable that cello concerts can evolve into a fun engaging activity with the artist