Boston is hardly short on famous musical pedagogues, but NEC’s Israeli violinist Miriam Fried is among the top while still active as performer. If you have three-quarters of an hour, hear her wonderfully old-fashioned way with the Brahms Violin Concerto (Longwood SO, Ronald Feldman; from three years ago HERE), and then prepare for her Bach upcoming. On Sunday September 18th at Jordan Hall at 4:30pm and 7:30pm, in a Music for Food benefit, Fried is going to be playing Bach’s six Violin Sonatas and Partitas, in celebration of her 70th birthday last week.
One of her colleagues fondly characterizes her as no-nonsense, her teaching informed by uncompromising values, and her playing as strong, tight, emotionally on the edge. The Bach therefore promises to be rather more than your basic NEC faculty recital. The Romania-born musician spent much of the past year reading and thinking about the pieces, and has produced a series of lectures and masterclasses (available online, with credentials, at www.iclassical-academy.com). She’s never done all six in one day before. Hearing these works together in such proximity permits grasping of the relationships, and the differences, among them.
Why are you celebrating your birthday with Bach?
I have always loved this body of work, and have often been puzzled by the fact that not everyone shared my passion. It seemed to me that the key would be to find a way into the emotional world of this music. So I decided to do something I had never done before, something I doubted I would even enjoy: I assembled a great number of books and articles about Bach and started reading. Somewhere along the way I discovered that I actually loved doing this. The more I read, the more I wanted to know. Mostly I realized that we are missing many pieces of the puzzle. Bach left us very little information beyond the works themselves, and the opinions of others were just that, opinions. But he did say some things which are illuminating: he called the art of composition “the science of music” and talked about the skills needed to understand music. It is through this knowledge that I think one unlocks the gate to the emotional landscape of this music.
Thorough understanding of harmony and counterpoint, and supreme clarity of presentation, are essential to a satisfying performance.
Using the Baroque bow seemed a natural consequence from this discovery, and proved to be an exciting experiment in itself. Becoming acquainted with the experiences and discoveries of some distinguished Baroque specialists gave me new ideas, and reading about the tradition and evolution of dances of the period illuminated the character of the dances in the partitas.
“Rhythm” in ancient Greece was a verb, and so “rhythming” the dances gives them organization and form. (From Dance and the Music of Bach, by Meredith Little and Natalie Jenne) French court dances, developed by dancemasters at the time of Louis the XIV, were based on this information. We know that Bach was well-acquainted with them; they were most probably the inspiration for the dances in his partitas. I found it most helpful to watch Baroque dancing and become acquainted with the steps that characterize each dance.
Playing from manuscript and knowing that this was the copy Bach used in his teaching and performing highlighted the importance of the notations. The more I looked at them the more I understood how central they are to the interpretation of the music.
My most important conclusion was something I had advocated all my life: knowledge empowers.
I started playing the solo sonatas and partitas by Bach 60 years ago. I performed them on numerous occasions and recorded them all. I can truly say that I have never been as excited about playing this music as I am now, and I am eagerly looking forward to sharing my enthusiasm with the audience in Jordan hall.
What do you say to the Boston pastor who opined that one has to be a Lutheran to understand Bach?
I would reply by saying that Bach, who was no doubt a devout Lutheran, deals with universal questions of life and death, love and loss, the beauty of nature and the glory of the universe, and therefore speaks to all of us, regardless of race or creed.
How did this concert get connected with Music for Food?
Music for Food is a wonderful organization which promotes the idea that we musicians are first and foremost citizens, and as such we have the responsibility to care for those in society who are less fortunate than us. Kim Kashkashian was the founder of this group in Boston, and I have been an enthusiastic supporter and participant from the very beginning. It seemed only natural that, as we celebrate the humanity and generosity of Bach, we remember those in need.
Suggested Donation: $25, $10 students. Seating open.
All proceeds benefit The Women’s Lunch Place. Accepted at door: Cash, checks made payable to “Music for Food”; credit cards taken through Square or Paypal (credit card reader on a smart phone). Tax receipts for all donations provided.