BACH and the MUSES : Music, Poetry & Art———– Reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

January 21, 2007
TAFELMUSIK presents
BACH and the MUSES: Music, Poetry & Art
Trinity-St.Paul’s Centre, Toronto

There is a direct way you can put words to music: listen to the music and put your words to it. Three poets, Lorna Crozier, Anne Michaels and Jan Zwicky, accepted Tafelmusik director Jean Lamon’s invitation to do that with solo works by Bach. Ms. Lamon also chose three painters who agreed to paint while they listened to Bach solos.

Here you have a painting by Margaret Shaw made in response to Bach’s “Suite in D Minor for solo violoncello, BWV 1008″. As we contemplate Shaw’s ascending spiral structure, Christina Mahler plays the sinuous ‘Prelude’ of the Bach. Its progress is leisurely, compared to the spirited benchmark Rostropovich. A reading by Karen Woolridge puts the words of poet Lorna Crozier to the Bach.

They speak of the cello that knows the lower body best, the heat “of the belly, / the bowels, the genitals—the sweat/ and stain of things, holy and otherwise, / their dark vibrations….” Forgotten is Rostropovich. Michelle Pfeiffer, the pregnant Witch of Eastwick, merges with Christina Mahler as the “dark vibrations” of the ‘Allemande’ begin to issue from “the clutch of calves and knees and inner/ thighs, the pitch and muscle/ of their sounds.”

Crozier has a poem for each of the five intervals between sections of the suite. Her words change how I hear the cello: “whale song echoing miles/ across the sea floor, calling the lost, / the ones without a mother, home.”

Three preludes and fugues (BWV 854,849,860) from Bach’s “The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I” are represented in this triptych painted by Christopher Hogue. Between silvery recitals by Charlotte Nedinger on harpsichord, we listen to Karen Woolridge speak with warmth and clarity the words of Anne Michaels’ poem “Repairing the Octave”. Her theme is healing through conflict.

In her mind are two couples, three hundred years apart: Bach, blind, tended by his wife Anna Magdalena, while they listen to the playing of some of their 20 children; and the poet herself, Anne Michaels remembering, by the bedside of her father abstracted now by Alzheimer’s, how one long-gone winter’s day they shared hearing “the clear precision of the fugue/on the car radio.” She recalls her father’s dedication to Bach’s music, him learning to sing the notes, then to play them on the piano: “…how the voices of the fugue /entered each other like needle and thread/through cloth.” Kinship in music heals all separation: “The two men sit in the dark. / What is 300 years /between one voice/ and another?”

Following intermission, on the stage below this painting by Konstantin Nikov, Jan Zwicky read her 6 part poem “Practicing Bach” in the gaps of J.S.B’s “Partita in E Major for solo violin, BWV 1006.” The subtle dynamics, sculpted rhythms, and vivid colours of the ‘Preludio’ performed at speed by Aisslinn Nosky provoked a spontaneous outburst of applause. For Zwicky Bach’s piece is “The partita of the world, the dance of everything:”

everything/ has to be possible.” Bach’s wisdom, that we can hear in the music, is:

Practice
ceaselessly: there is
one art: wind
in the open spaces
grieving, laughing
with us, saying
improvise.

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