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article imageReview: ‘BACH & Friends’ shows virtues of collaboration

By Terence Yung     Sep 21, 2011 in Entertainment
It’s amazing to see musicians from all backgrounds—professional and emerging talent, pianists, violinists, clarinetists, singers, vocal groups, jazz musicians—perform and discuss their craft in an easy-going collegial setting.
For this reason alone, Michael Lawrence’s documentary ‘BACH & Friends,’ is deserving of the highest acclaim.
Lawrence relates in his Director's Journal, that he first encountered the music of J. S. Bach as a teenager.
“As soon as I listened to it, I was hooked,” said Lawrence. “The music completely captivated me.”
And thus began his love affair with the music of Bach.
The beauty of the documentary is that it successfully pairs groups of musicians you might never expect to see working together.
“Making 'Bach & friends' began with only a dream,” said Lawrence. “I began cold contacting my dream list of favorite Bach players.
“To my amazement, one world-class performer after another came aboard and for no compensation.”
“They all did it out of a shared love for this transcendent composer.”
The list is impressive enough: Hilary Hahn, Simone Dinnerstein, Felix Hell, Joshua Bell, Richard Stoltzman, and the Emerson Quartet juxtaposed with Ward Swingle and the Swingle Singers, Bobby McFerrin, Béla Fleck to name a few—even the composer Philip Glass makes an entrance.
The crux of Lawrence’s documentary is the thread that music, especially Bach’s music, has the potential to bring people of disparate backgrounds together.
What Lawrence successfully illustrates in his documentary is an extraordinary miracle—the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, written in the 18th Century, can be performed by a number of musicians with virtually any instrumentation and still come out transcendentally beautiful.
Some of the most interesting musical commentary about Bach came from the most unlikely of sources.
Here, it is appropriate to mention Bobby McFerrin’s inspiring wisdom concerning the art of improvisation.
Artists like McFerrin remind us that sometimes music is meant to be alive and spontaneous—a motion that Bach himself would no doubt have seconded, considering his renown for improvising.
And of course, the music making.
This documentary takes a snapshot of Bach as it is performed today.
Particularly, pianist Simone Dinnerstein deserves recognition for a magical performance of the ‘Goldberg Variations.’ The opening aria was beautifully sculpted with an inward thoughtfulness and appropriateness of gesture.
Organist Felix Hell demonstrates his phenomenal technical prowess coupled with the deepest sense of innate musicality.
Other Easter eggs include Joshua Bell’s moving performance of the ‘Chaconne in D minor’—the first captured on video, we might add, and we cannot go without mentioning the Swingle Singers, who brought a new and innovative sense of vitality to Bach’s music in a vocal ensemble setting.
What Lawrence’s documentary shows us is that successful musicians contribute to society in a collegial manner. It is a gift to hear the thoughts and the music of Philip Glass and Felix Hell juxtaposed with Bobby McFerrin and the Emerson Quartet.
So what’s next, you might ask?
Lawrence said that he has a sequel in the works.
“There is so much of Bach that I was unable to address in the first film due to limited funds,” said Lawrence.
“As I prepare for 'BACH & more friends,' I'm exploring lots of new ideas and wonderful new Bach players to work with.”
More about BACH & Friends, Michael Lawrence, Classical music, Documentary, J S Bach
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