A film by Matt Belcher
Spitalfields Music Festival
Premiere 5 July 2021
Spitalfields Music continues to promote early and contemporary music, currently through the Spitalfields Music Festival 2021 and a series of events, some online and all ‘live’ in Covid-secure conditions. One of the early online events was the premiere of a new film by Matt Belcher, commissioned by Spitalfields Music, exploring “the enduring power of Bach’s music” through the experience of four composers. The documentary explored the importance of music for them over the past year, the works by Bach that have inspired them, and their own musical responses to those works as they returned to post-pandemic performance.
Over a background of music by the Cuban bassist Cara Rosa Varona, one of the composers unable to travel to the UK for the filming process (Bach in Soleá, a reponse to the Minuet II from the first Cello Suite) we saw introductory details of Bach’s life and reponses to the music of Bach from a wide variety of figures, from Beethoven (“Bach, the immortal god of harmony”) to Nina Simone (“Bach made me dedicate my life to music”). The four composers gave their initial thoughts over pianist Kimiko Ishizaka‘s interpretation of the first Prelude of the Well-Tempered Clavier.
The four composers followed, starting with cellist Zoë Martlew discussing her own struggle in returning to the cello after a year of not playing during her lockdown by the sea, the Prélude of Bach’s first Cello Suite, and her own composition, G-lude, based on her frustration at returning to the instrument. Recorded in venue with a Carnival atmosphere, the beautifully played Prélude was followed by her own dramatic compositon built on the harmonic structure of the original, under a cloud of overtones.
Joe Cutler followed, playing the Gigue of the second Violin Partita from between the box pews of an impressive Georgian church, followed by Ghost Chorales, his own respone to Bach’s harmonies played on a church piano with accompanying tinkles from a keyboard synthesier. Howard Skempton dug out an accordian, dating back to his Morley College days, to play the Bourrée from the Violin Partita No.3 and his own mesmorising Borrow, a slow waltz with a long-spun melody over simple chords, recorded in a village Hall. To him, “Bach is the model”.
The final composer was Philip Herbert who gave a lovely performance of the Andante from Bach’s Organ Sonata No.4 (in August Stradal’s piano transcription) from a piano showroom, followed by this own impressive From the embers of silence, the sound representing a bell tolling for those lost in the pandemic. He commented that “Bach’s music still speaks to those human experiences that we have now, as they did when they were first written”.
This very well-made film provided a fascinating insight into the life of the four musicians during lockdown and their evident delight in performing again. Their own performances, perhaps inevitably, varied in quality, but their compositions were entirely appropriate to the various moods that they represented.
The film can be seen in a special one-of screening at the Genesis Cinema (Mile End Rd, London E1 4UJ) on Sunday 11 July at 12.15pm. Information and booking details can be found here.