From Tragedy to Transcendence: Bach, Casals & The Six Suites for Cello Solo

A multi-media presentation by guitar virtuoso Steven Hancoff

an incredibly rich multimedia exploration of the Cello Suites, Bach’s universe, and his influence through the centuriesthat blends music, videos, and well over a thousand still images—like a Ken Burns documentary gone wild! — into a vivid and compelling tapestry of history, stories, ruminations, and fascinating tangents that grow like vines off the main Bach saga.Classical Guitar Magazine

Watch this video for a preview of the show content

Steven Hancoff first heard the music of the ‘Cello Suites back in the 1980’s and fell in love, with not just the music, but also the story which accompanied the music; a story which Bach has used to create the music which weaves and entrances, as fresh today as it was when first written back in 1720. That the music survived at all was nothing short of a miracle. That it has been transcribed into modern format or metre suitable for acoustic guitar, thus reintroducing it to a wider audience, is indeed something very special, rare and beautiful.

"When I was first smitten with the desire to transcribe and record the Six Suites for Cello Solos, the entire idea was to transform each of the 36 movements – six pieces of music in each of six suites – into music for the guitar. I had fallen in love with the music back in the 1980’s, and as I was approaching my 60th birthday, the timing felt right. That is to say, it was now or never!

Transcription is not merely the transferring of notes from one instrument to another. Transcription here is the art of creating a piece of guitar music out of a piece of cello music. One of the central issues that was necessary to confront was this: cello is a one-note-at-a-time instrument – you can't play separate, concurrent melodic lines and you can't play chords. In short, this means a cello soloist can play melody but not harmony.

A guitar, on the other hand, is idiomatically suited, or even designed, for the musician to do all these things. So, transcription here ultimately means harmonizing the Bach Cello Suites.Every day I practiced two suites – twelve pieces of music – by Johann Sebastian Bach. Normally, when a musician is working on a piece of music, he memorizes it, both mentally and muscularly. This practice was essentially different in that I had to struggle to not memorize because, whenever a new harmonic idea occurred to me, I kept on changing the transcriptions. And of course, the more I practiced the Suites, the more intimate I became with them, and so the more ideas came my way.

Early on, it dawned on me that familiarizing myself with the life of this man might deepen my understanding of who he was, and that understanding would serve me to better organize the music. So, I began to read biographies. And the more I read, the more I wrote. This man, "the miracle of Bach," as Pablo Casals once put it, led a life of unfathomable creativity and giftedness on the one hand and neglect and immense tragedy on the other.

I have come to feel that this is the pre-eminent and most grand and by far the most profoundly serendipitous legend of Western culture. I expect to be touring with this concert-length presentation - storytelling with music, video, hundreds of historic images and spectacular contemporary art -- over the next years. I actually feel that it is my great honor to make this spectacular legend known to the world.

The other half concerns itself with what is an archetypal and universal fable common to all people -- how we must come to articulate our own life story to ourselves and come to define who we are and what was the ultimate significance of our lives -- in particular in the face of our own agonies and tragedies.  It is my great honor, my mission, to make this spectacular legend known to the world."

Strains of music dovetail with what is the largest collection of Bach-inspired visual art ever amassedIt is an antique subject elegantly rendered in an impossibly light 21st century container. - Huffington Post

Deeply insightful, eloquent and musically formidable, Steven Hancoff has created a timeless work -- timeless like the music of Bach itself. J. Reilly Lewis, Music Director, Washington Bach Consort

About Steven Hancoff:

Jazz Review Magazine once wrote that I am “an interpretive master who plays with fluidity, grace and passion.” Very cool!

I don’t know about that – but the critics who write about these things were mostly swept away by each of my four previous recordings - from Ragtime to Tin Pan Alley to New Orleans Jazz to Duke Ellington. 

For about fifteen years, I toured the world – about 50 countries – as an official Artistic Ambassador representing the United States of America. And, boy, did I have some amazing experiences! So many grand adventures, all the interesting people, breathtaking places…

The concerts – the music and the story of the great American music tradition, woven together with tales of the men and women who created it – have captivated audiences everywhere.

Now, after years of intense devotion to what has become my life’s work, my four-volume iBook – Bach, Casals & the Six Suites for ‘Cello Solo, which -- believe it or not, started out as liner notes! – is all done and out in the world.

You can get my 3-CD recording (or digital downloads) of the From Tragedy to Transformation: Six Suites for ‘Cello Solo by J. Sebastian Bach for Acoustic Guitar on iTunes, CD Baby and wherever you can still buy CDs.

And to top it off, I will make the scores of my transcriptions of all 36 of these masterpieces available to any guitarists who want to get a look at them. I hope a lot of guitar players will take the opportunity to try their hands, so to speak, at learning to play this wonderful music.

Besides being a musician, I am a grateful graduate of tiny (My graduating class had 38 members.) St. John’s College, esteemed for its singular “One Hundred Great Books of the Western World” program. I have also been a Rolfer™ for more than 30 years, and I am proud to be a member of the Grand Canyon River Guides Association.

Show Dates & Times:

8/7/16 - Sunday

2:00 pm,

$20/General Admission. Handling fee applies to web and phone orders.

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