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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bach Underground

Or: The Cellist in Times Square
Dale Henderson. Photo © Daniela Sessa

Early yesterday evening, my partner and I were dealing with the subways, on our way to attend a New York Philharmonic concert. We're changing trains (from the R to the 1--no expresses in a New York still digging out from the Boxing Day Blizzard) when suddenly we hear...Bach?

Cellist Dale Henderson, a Bronx-based professional musician and cello teacher was playing Bach on the uptown 1, 2, 3, platform, working his way through one of the 'cello suites. (I don't remember which one it was.) His performance was a small, audible voice of sanity in the middle of this post-blizzard bustle.

Johann Sebastian Bach's six Suites for Solo Cello are the most important literature ever written for the instrument. It is likely that the Suites were written during Bach's Cöthen period. They may have intended as a series of exercises for those who wished to master the instrument. After Bach's death, the Suites were mostly unknown, until they were discovered by cellist Pablo Casals. His recording of them (the first ever made) is still considered a pinnacle of the arts.

We stood, enraptured by the sounds emanating from his carved rosewood instrument, the delicate dance movements, the earthy tones of the low strings. There's nothing quite like the sound of rational music in the middle of chaos--it reminded me, at the end a long year of concerts and reviews, of why I do this and why I love it so.

As Mr. Henderson reached the end of a movement, his bow slid back and forth across the strings. Playing a coda and final cadence, the bow almost jabbed an eager commuter who didn't want to hear anything about Bach. The artist recovered, changing to a deft backward stroke as he sounded the final chord. It was a nifty little move, and one done in the service of good music.

You can check out this remarkable artist at his Facebook page or on Twitter.. By the way, Mr. Henderson does not put out a hat for donations, and he does not accept tips for his playing.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats