Johnny Gandelsman and Johann Sebastian Bach are on very familiar terms. Gandelsman is a Grammy-award winning virtuoso violinist who has been playing since he was 5 years old. And before he collaborated with Yo-Yo Ma and Bela Fleck (among many others), took on a daring contemporary classical repertoire with the quartet Brooklyn Rider and launched his own solo career, Gandelsman played a lot of Bach’s music.
“This music is something that every string player grows up with,” he says. “I learned my first piece of Bach’s when I was maybe 12 years old, and I’m now 42; I’ve been playing Bach throughout my life. It’s very much part of our canon, and there’s so much to learn there.”
In fact, Gandelsman’s first-ever solo album was 2018’s “J.S Bach: Sonatas & Partitas for Violin.” For the just-released follow-up, though, Gandelsman did something a little different. He took on the complete collection of Bach’s cello suites on the new double-CD set, transcribed for the violin.
“This is something that most violinists don’t do,” he says. “Almost nobody plays the cello suites on the violin, which is somewhat strange to me. And I’m hoping that since I recorded them and I’m playing them around, that more violinists will pick them up, because they work so well on the violin.”
When played on the violin, Gandelsman says that the suites take on a different musical shade.
“I’ve been playing Bach throughout my life. It’s very much part of our canon, and there’s so much to learn there.”
“The cello has a gravitas to it,” he says. “It’s a lower sound and a different kind of resonance that adds to the music. But what I love about these works on the violin is how light and nimble they sound. I’ve listened to the cello suites all of my life, but I’ve been enjoying discovering that music in a different light on the violin.”
And indeed on the “J.S. Bach: Complete Cello Suites Transcribed for the Violin” album, the music seems to leap brightly from the speakers, and Gandelsman’s playing is so skillful that the suites often sound as if they were made for his instrument.
On the 6th suite, that instrument is a five-string violin, something Gandelsman says is relatively rare in classical music.
“It’s not something that a lot of people in the classical world do,” he says, “but it’s very common in the folk music tradition, which is something that I really love. So that’s another thing I’ve been learning is how to play on the five-string violin and how to manage it because it has a different resonance to it than my fiddle. It’s an opportunity to learn something new and find comfort with that.”
You can play it in a concert hall for thousands of people and you can play it in a café for 20 people; it stands up to any situation.
Gandelsman will be in the Upstate this Friday, March 13, for two performances involving the transcribed cello suites. He’ll be performing at Wofford College in the evening, mixing Bach’s compositions with more contemporary works by Akshaya Avril Tucker and Dana Lyn, but he’ll also be making a far more intimate afternoon appearance at Horizon Records for an in-store performance.
“The great thing about this music is that it works really well in any situation,” he says. “You can play it in a concert hall for thousands of people and you can play it in a café for 20 people; it stands up to any situation. And people who come to record stores and browse through LPs, those are real music fans, so it’s really great to be in that kind of environment. People listen really well and appreciate what you’re doing.”
Gandelsman adds that he’s excited to be performing this material for an audience in general, because he hasn’t done a lot of that with this new release.
“It’s one thing to live with the pieces and know them,” he says, “but it’s completely different to then start performing them for an audience. I’ve spent a lot of time in my practice room or in hotel rooms on the road working on my own, but then you come out and play for an audience, and things change. When I perform them live, they feel completely different from the recordings.”
What: Johnny Gandelsman
When: 1 p.m. Friday, March 13
Where: Horizon Records, 2 W. Stone Ave., Greenville
Tickets: Performance is free