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Brooklyn Rider’s Johnny Gandelsman Makes Solo Album Debut with Bach’s Complete Sonatas and Partitas for Violin (Jan 19)

Johnny Gandelsman, a member of the Silk Road Ensemble and a founding member of Brooklyn Rider, makes his solo album debut with J.S. Bach: Complete Sonatas and Partitas for Violin. Due for CD, digital, and vinyl release by In a Circle Records on Friday, January 19, the new recording showcases the “genial freshness and unaffected sincerity” the violinist brings to Bach’s masterpieces, his reading all the “richer for his many collaborations with musicians working in styles far beyond the Western classical tradition” (Boston Globe). Gandelsman’s understanding and interpretation of Bach’s music is multi-layered and unique, drawing not only on his classical training but also on the experience he has gained over the past decade with the Silk Road Ensemble and Brooklyn Rider – experience that includes commissioning new works from a variety of composers and performers, as well as collaborating with improvisers, masters of non-classical traditions, and ballet and modern dance companies.

The project was launched in 2015, when the violinist felt the need to challenge himself. He explains:

“After spending more than a decade working in collaborative settings, I wanted to focus inward and look for my own voice again. I also suspected that, having worked with non-classical musicians like Iranian kamancheh legend Kayhan Kalhor, master Irish fiddler Martin Hayes, and American composer and banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck, my understanding of Bach’s music would evolve, if I gave it the proper focus.”

That same year, Gandelsman performed Bach’s complete sonatas and partitas on 15 occasions, growing with the music and learning from the show and its audience each time. Lloyd Schwartz, describing a live performance on NPR’s Fresh Air, said: “I’ve heard some famous violinists attempt this epic feat, but none of them gripped me and delighted me as thoroughly as Gandelsman.” Similarly, the New York Times found his interpretation “mesmerizing”:

“Mr. Gandelsman has a gift for teasing out the emotional nuances at the low edge of the dynamic range, where his sound feathers into near-silence even as it remains subtly illuminated. This lent a fearsome vulnerability to the expressive slow movements, which became doubt-riddled inner conversations full of tentative, questioning pauses. At the start of the Grave of the second sonata his sound was at its most radiant and singing; at the end it thinned into quiet desolation.

“The fugues brought out an entirely different character of Mr. Gandelsman’s playing: athletic, lithe and rhythmically rigorous. The technical difficulties of the double-, triple- and quadruple-stops cause many violinists to play them with teeth-gritted force, but Mr. Gandelsman managed to imbue them with a sense of freedom.

“In the concluding movements of the E-major Partita, Mr. Gandelsman’s experience of playing alongside folk music masters like the fiddler Martin Hayes showed through. With a bright, zesty sound and nimble-footed grace, he danced his way to the finish line of this memorable marathon.

Driven to dig still deeper, in 2016 Gandelsman decided to record the works, running a successful Kickstarter campaign and raising more than $30,000. Now the completed album is ready to be shared with listeners worldwide. He adds:

“I feel very lucky to have had eye- and ear-opening experiences with musicians like Kayhan, Martin and Béla. Thinking about Kayhan’s masterful improvisations helped me with quasi-improvised movements like the great Chaconne; imagining how Martin would play a traditional jig or reel led me to a better understanding of the dance movements in the partitas; watching Béla’s effortless virtuosity opened new doors for my technique. I owe them and many others a great deal.”

Issued on his own label, the album follows on the heels of two notable recordings also produced by Gandelsman himself: the Silk Road Ensemble’s Sing Me Home, which won the Grammy Award for Best World Music earlier this year, and The Vietnam War, comprising music recorded by Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble for Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s documentary of that name, which was released on PBS in September.

The violinist launched In a Circle Records ten years ago, with Brooklyn Rider’s debut album, Passport. The label has since issued the game-changing string quartet’s recordings Seven Steps and Dominant Curve, as well as the Silk Road Ensemble’s Off The Map, a Grammy nominee; solo albums from shakuhachi master Kojiro Umezaki, guitarist Jon Mendle, and violist Nicholas Cords; and a DVD capturing The Knights’ live performance of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony.

Raised in a musical family in Russia and Israel, Gandelsman began his studies with Natalya Boyarskaya, continuing with Felix Andrievsky and Maya Glezarova, legendary pedagogues of the Russian violin school. After winning medals at the Menuhin and Kreisler International Violin Competitions, he moved to the U.S., where he studied with Jascha Brodsky and Arnold Steinhardt at the Curtis Institute of Music.

High-resolution photos can be downloaded here.

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© 21C Media Group, January 2018

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