This weekend in the heart of modern-day NYC, I had a Baroque enlightenment! I watched a Baroque ensemble, complete with harpsichord, viola de gamba, and lute, perform Bach and Telemann. I danced along to the steps of the Sarabande, Gigue, and Minuet. I learned an abundance of Bach facts from a musicologist. And finally, I listened to every movement of Bach's Six Sonatas and Partitas, performed beautifully by young violinists, ages 6-17.
Planning extravagant experiences are in the wheelhouse of violin pedagogue Elizabeth Faidley. In the pre-COVID era, she hired entire orchestras for her students to solo with, hosted violinists like Rachel Barton Pine, Ray Chen, Augustin Hadelich, and Sarah Chang in masterclasses, and provided her students with many outside lesson opportunities. She even orchestrated a surprise for Brett and Eddy of TwoSet Violin - 30 young violinists performing Shostakovich on slide whistles. During COVID, she set up multiple pedagogy learning opportunities, engaging violinists and teachers from 56 countries.
"The Bach Project" that she hosted last weekend was simply sublime. To begin the festivities, her students engaged in three workshops. The first featured NY Baroque, Inc. The students first heard a short recital, complete with baroque violin, cello, viola de gamba, a harpsichord, baroque flute, and lute.
This NYC ensemble performed comfortably and beautifully together. Then, Elizabeth split them into small groups by age and set up a musical "petting zoo."
Each group spent 5-10 minutes with each instrument, learning how it works, where it came from, what instrument it grew into, and I think I heard a few lute plucks ring out into the hall.
Caroline Copland, a dance teacher of all specialties, led the slightly-reluctant group of violinists-turned-dancers in the Minuet, Sarabande, Gavotte, and finally, Gigue. Elizabeth spoke about why this was important to her, and relayed a message from renowned pedagogue and cellist, Laurence Lesser. It's important to find the dance character in everything you play, especially these dances in the Baroque period. Several violinists were brave enough to perform movements of Bach while their studio mates danced. It was fascinating to watch. Their enthusiasm was infectious.
After a short break (Elizabeth runs a tight ship!), the students assembled again to hear Michael Wittenburg, their studio pianist and conductor, give an amusing and very informative lecture about "A Day in the Life of Bach".
Wittenburg created a connect-the-dots activity to more clearly illustrate the many cities in Germany which Bach passed through and why. I will admit, his demonstration made me want to go explore Weimar! The students, from 6 to 18, sat and excitedly listened (many seemed very excited that he had donned a Bach wig).
Following that, Elizabeth taught a 2-hour dress rehearsal, where each student performed his/her movement of Bach in the space, for her. She gave quiet feedback, some hugs, some secretive sheets of paper with comments, some pushes for more confidence.
On Sunday we reassembled at The Church of the Good Shepherd to hear this performance of every movement of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas - very unique experience.
Elizabeth's programs were beautiful, featuring little biographies of each performer, formatted very personally: "Adrian Li is in the 6th grade and hopes to create a space exploration company. He enjoys ramen and once cartwheeled into a fence. Adrian would like to become an orca so he could become the king of the ocean. He loves the different conversations in Bach's music." Elizabeth is as funny as she is ambitious.
Everyone performed beautifully and quite professionally. They have obviously been well trained in every area. A few stand-out performers were six-year-old Romy Kim, performing the most spirited "Gavotte en Rondeau" I have ever heard (I thought she might just lift off the stage from excitement and fly away), and eight-year-old Josephina Steiner, whose deep understanding of Bach couldn't have just come from her lessons on the famed Allemande. In the bracket of older students, many were excellent. Minsoo Chae, Annabelle Wu, and Nicolas Lin seem like they were born to perform. Sofia Skoldberg's performance put the audience in a trance, as she calmly and easily executed every note of the B Minor Partita's Allemande, and of course, the grand finale, Bach's Chaconne, performed by violinist, Ryan Tully, brought the audience to both tears and to their feet in applause.
This project was quite an undertaking. The only thing missing was a time machine to transport us all to Germany, 1720!
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