[ by Charles Cameron — JS Bach in Palmyra, in the DC Metro, and variously on YouTube ]
I have to applaud Putin and the Russians for bringing the full orchestra of the Mariinsky Theater from St Petersburg to Palmyra now that the Islamic State has departed, with added kudos for choosing Bach‘s towering Chaconne from his Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004 as one of three works to be played there — by the Tchaikovsky Competition winning soloist Pavel Milyukov:
As I say, I applaud the gesture. OTOH, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, according to Breitbart, called the event “a tasteless attempt to distract attention from the continued suffering of millions of Syrians” and said it “shows that there are no depths to which the regime will not sink.”
This may not be the greatest performance of that work musically, but the work itself is extraordinary. Johannes Brahms said of it:
On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.
It was famously this Chaconne that violinist Joshua Bell played — twice — with his violin case open to receive tips, in DC’s L’Enfant Plaza metro station, during a 45 minute anonymous session in which he netted $32. $32 and change, for a man whose upcoming performance with the National Symphony Orchestra at DC’s Kennedy Center (February 11, 2017) is ticketed at $216 or $223, depending on how well seated you wish to be…
Here’s the poorly recorded, hidden videocam account of the second of those performances, which starts at about the 30’15” mark:
Gene Weingarten‘s description of the event in the Washington Post, Pearls Before Breakfast, won the Pulitzer..
For the fullest musical appreciation, here is that same Joshua Bell playing the Chaconne in 2014 in the DeLaMar Theater, Amsterdam:
Hillary Hahn, also superb:
The no less beautiful Hélène Grimaud, playing the Busoni transcription for piano:
And last, violinist Christoph Poppen plays the Chaconne, with added chorale motifs as reconstructed by violinist turned musicologist Helga Thoene sung by the Hilliard Ensemble — the culmination of the group’s celebrated album, Morimur:
Post-modern adaptation, or quintessential Bach? Either way, I find the entire project enthralling.