When I was 11 years old, I became a student of Alan Harris at the Eastman School of Music. I wasn’t enrolled as an Eastman student, of course, but on many a Saturday, my parents and I trekked 140 miles each way from my hometown of Utica, New York to the ornate Eastman School building in Rochester for my lesson with Mr. Harris. I lived for these journeys in the family car: we listened to music non-stop during the trip (through our Oldsmobile station wagon’s under-dash cassette player, state of the art back then!), Mahler symphonies, Verdi operas, Prokofieff piano concertos, and the like. And we purchased most of these recordings in Rochester, at the downtown Music Lover’s Shop – Rochester, compared to the sleepy streets of Utica, was a huge thriving metropolis in my mind, the real world, filled with excitement and culture.
It was on one of these Saturdays, during my lesson, that Mr. Harris told me that I was to begin the study of the prelude of the 1st Bach Unaccompanied Suite, 4 notes per bow, from the Janos Starker edition of the suites. My parents immediately became excited at the prospect of me learning Bach suites, but I, in my 11-year-old naïveté, had no clue as to the significance of the project on which I was to embark. In fact, when I took a look at that G Major prelude a few days later, I was disappointed by the seemingly simplistic writing – all sixteenth notes, lots of open strings, all in low positions. How could this be profoundly great music, I thought? The Saint-Saëns Concerto, now that was a piece to delve into, and I couldn’t wait to ramp up to that exciting work! But of course, out of respect to Bach, my teacher, and my musician dad and music-loving mom, I began to practice that prelude, 4 notes per bow, slowly at first, gradually ramping up my tempo until the piece started to take shape. And, lo and behold, I began to see that there was something there – maybe my teacher, parents, and the general cello-listening public were right, that these Bach Suites had some value after all.
In the many years that have passed since my introduction to the Bach Suites, I’ve spent countless hours practicing, intensively studying, analyzing, performing, and teaching all six of these remarkable works. From a relatively early age, I began to dream of someday recording these pieces. I began my performing career as an active soloist after winning the Young Concert Artists International Auditions in 1986, but my professional life gradually, naturally, and happily evolved into one of chamber music performance and cello teaching. As such, my Bach suite recording dream faded with the years.
A few years back, my St. Lawrence String Quartet colleague, Barry Shiffman, announced his plans to leave the quartet to pursue other interests, most notably to become the director of Music Programs at the Banff Centre in Banff, Alberta. Upon his departure, he strongly encouraged me to make plans to travel up to Banff to record the Bach Suites in the Rolston Recital Hall at the Centre. My wife, Debra Fong, who for years had encouraged me to pursue plans to record Bach, immediately took on the role of cheerleader and made it clear that this could be a once in a lifetime opportunity that I should take very seriously. After careful consideration, a search for dates, the gathering of support (moral, from friends, family, and colleagues, and financial, from Stanford University), and a lot of practicing and performing, I traveled to Banff in November of 2008 to record Suites 1-3. My plan was to record these 3 suites only, and if I enjoyed the process and liked the result, I’d make arrangements to return to Banff at a later date to record 4-6. I had a fabulous time recording at Banff, and I decided, after listening to a first edit from that session (and with more encouragement from my always supportive wife!), that I would make arrangements to return to finish the cycle. As it was, the next obvious opportunity to return to Banff to record was 2 years later, in November of 2010, at which time I delved into suites 4-6 and finished the project.
This website is the realization of a lifelong dream: to record Bach in an idyllic setting and present it to the world in an inviting context. After I had finished recording the 1st three suites, I considered possible ways in which I could share the results of my efforts. I came to the conclusion, after much discussion with my Stanford faculty colleague and friend Jonathan Berger, that a website featuring my recordings connected to scholarly and innovative Bach-related materials would a meaningful expression of my interests and goals. I most certainly hope you will agree with this assessment!
I encourage you to explore this site in depth – listen, read, wander further through our links and bibliographical suggestions. In time the site will grow and change – I wish for it to be a living thing, one that you’ll be encouraged to visit again and again. Enjoy!