Bach and Bucket Lists

July 27, 2015, 9:05 PM · STAUNTON, Va. - Having arrived Sunday in the dark of night on a much-delayed flight from Los Angeles, I awakened Monday to find myself in a town that looks like something from a dream, or a book, or another era, with its red brick buildings, green hills, little local shops.

Staunton, Va. is home to the Heifetz Institute, which is currently in its fifth week at Mary Baldwin College. Before going to any classes or concerts, I had to check out this cute little town, which also has three local coffee shops. (I'm always after the coffee.) Here is a peek down the main street, Beverley:

Beverley Street

The Heifetz Institute takes place on the campus of Mary Baldwin College, and here is one of its many beautiful buildings. As you can see, it sits at the top of a big hill, as do many things here.

building on hill

By the end of the day, the "Health" app on my phone told me that I'd climbed the equivalent of 44 flights of steps!

so many steps

At noon, I saw a concert at the Temple House, a small venue which was packed with about 130 people: groups of older people, parents with children, students.

Temple House

During this year's six-week program, the Institute is hosting 41 concerts, which creates many opportunities for its 81 students to perform publicly. On Monday four students (two violists, a cellist and a violinist) played solo works by J.S. Bach and Reger. The Institute puts an emphasis on communication and public engagement, so each student spoke to the audience, giving an introduction before playing and taking questions afterwards.

I enjoyed all the performances. I especially enjoyed hearing Bach's D minor Chaconne for solo violin, played on viola by Aadam Ibrahim. "On the viola," he explained, "it's actually in G minor." Aadam explained that Bach wrote this piece after coming home from a long trip to find that his wife, age 36, had died and been buried in his absence. Aadam said he sees the first part of the music as the lament of someone aged by tragedy; the second part as the heavenly major section, a reflection of happier times; then the third as a return to the minor key, return to reality, return to grief.

At any age or stage, it takes courage to perform this piece, which most violinists would say takes a lifetime to reveal its mysteries. Aadam, a native violist (started at 5 on viola, not violin first), rode it straight through, and you have to know the road well to do that. The bariolage sections were nicely paced and nicely placed. This piece seems so different on viola; more soft-edged perhaps, but also darker. That shaft of light that shines through the major section just doesn't seem quite as piercing; it's somehow more veiled when expressed a fifth lower on viola.

After his performance, in the course of answering audience questions, Aadam talked about his reasons for learning the Chaconne.

Aadam Ibrahim

During his senior year, he was thinking about his future, and how it might not include playing the violin. Playing Bach's Chaconne was on his "bucket list," and if he was not going to be doing music in the future, he nonetheless still wanted to play Chaconne. And so he began it. Today, at age 20, he performed it for the first time in public. And very obviously, he is still doing music.

Funny what happens, when you choose to go ahead and start doing those things on your "bucket list"!

* * *

Later this week: Look for my blog about an excellent left-hand technique class that I saw Monday, given by Indiana University professor Grigory Kalinovsky.

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July 28, 2015 at 01:21 PM · Welcome to the land of the American Civil War. Lots of history and natural beauty around you: Monticello, Luray Caverns, New Market Battlefield, Appomattox Court House... From I-64, drive south on the Blue Ridge Parkway, or head north along Skyline Drive! With choices like that it's hard to make a mistake.

July 29, 2015 at 01:39 AM · Completely off topic, but Paul your comment is filled with so much X-Files referecning I'm bouncing off the wall with excitement !

July 29, 2015 at 04:21 PM · Another great article Laurie! I found Aadam's very moving viola performance of the Bach Chaconne here:

Bach Chaconne

July 30, 2015 at 08:54 PM · Thank you, Christopher!

August 3, 2015 at 01:06 PM · That's interesting Sharelle because I have never seen "X-Files," not even once.

There is a great restaurant in Staunton, hope you got to try it. If not, add it to your bucket list the next time you come this way.

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