“Forever Bach: The Celestial Suites for Cello”—from the Historic Mahaiwe Stage to Your Screen


FEBRUARY 3, 2021

Did J. S. Bach foresee a pandemic, that would keep musicians apart from one another, when he conceived of and wrote the Unaccompanied Suites for Cello? According to Close Encounters With Music artistic director Yehuda Hanani, the six suites are the most divine music that you can play alone. “Bach has been my constant companions over the past ten months. The suites are chameleon-like and present different faces, depending on your stage of life, your circumstances, what you wish to highlight. They take you the entire distance between the dance floor to the highest spiritual realm, from foot-stomping Breughel to the other-worldliness of Piero de la Francesca…”

Mr. Hanani is widely considered one of the most eloquent, insightful and authoritative proponents of the music of Bach. He has presented master classes focusing on them at festivals and conservatories around the world, and his recording of the suites for TownHall Records and live performances of the cycle have garnered international praise.

Close Encounters With Music, now in its 29th year, has produced and presented a virtual summer festival and four online concerts this past fall. The Bach program is the first of the new Winter/Spring season of concerts that will be recorded on the Mahaiwe stage and made available for viewing online. With these concerts, Close Encounters continues its tradition of chamber music with lively commentary, even in the age of COVID-19. Fall season performances are still available on the Close Encounters With Music YouTube channel.

Again in partnership with the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center and Classical WMHT-FM, the upcoming presentations will include three programs, from February through April. Full descriptions can be found below. Each concert will begin with the same illuminating insights from Yehuda Hanani that audiences have enjoyed for over twenty-eight years, plus an “Afterglow” chat with guest musicians that audiences this year have found especially poignant.

CEWM’s online offerings were launched in July when the decision was made to present an entirely virtual Berkshire High Peaks Festival, with the participation of 46 international string, piano and vocal students, followed by an August livestreamed concert, “From Bach to Bachianas,” a guitar/cello recital featuring Eliot Fisk and Yehuda Hanani on stage in an empty Mahaiwe Theater. These and the October through December concerts that followed, available on cewm.orgmahaiwe.org, both organizations’ YouTube channels, and the Mahaiwe’s Facebook, have collected thousands of views.


Forever Bach—The Celestial Suites for Unaccompanied Cello
Sunday, February 28, 2021, 7:30 PM EST (mahaiwe.org or cewm.org)

A composer beyond time and place, and a journey to transcendence!  J. S. Bach’s Suites are blueprints for cellists of all generations for the construction of temples of sound in time. Though alone with one instrument, “Unaccompanied” is a bit of a misnomer, as they require the performer to be an acoustic illusionist:  Each suite is more like a drama for three or four characters played by one actor, at times presenting a challenge akin to tightrope-walking on a bass line while performing a juggling act!  Yehuda Hanani has juggled and wrestled with the suites for decades, and his recording of the six suites is one of the definitive renditions of this holy of holies for cellists.  “In this era of the cello, Hanani is among the best.  His Bach was absorbing, imaginative, beautiful in all respects.” –San Francisco Examiner; “A consistently expressive artist” –The New York Times.

Yehuda Hanani, cello

The Sebastians Baroque Ensemble
Sunday, April 3, 2021, 7:30 PM EST (mahaiwe.org and cewm.org)

The Sebastians connect with audiences through dynamic and vital performances of music of the baroque and classical eras. Known for their “energetic… youthful, vigorous performance style…” they have been called New York’s “leading young early-music ensemble” (The New York Times).  This colorful, varied program will feature Telemann’s “Paris” Quartet, the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, and works by Vivaldi, CPE Bach, Handel and Porpora, with star roles for harpsichord and baroque flute (traverso).

Jeffrey Grossman, harpsichord; Daniel Lee and Nicholas DiEugenio, violin; Jessica Troy, viola; Ezra Seltzer, violoncello; Nathaniel Chase, violone; David Ross, traverso
Yehuda Hanani, cello

Felix, Fanny and Frederic: Chopin and the Mendelssohns
Sunday, April 25, 2021, 7:30 PM EST (mahaiwe.org and cewm.org)

A dazzling pianist, accomplished violinist, composer, conductor, a gifted painter and a gymnast, Felix Mendelssohn enraptured the royal courts and concert halls of Europe before dying at 38, shattered by the sudden death of his beloved sister and musical soul mate, Fanny Hensel.  Beyond extravagant, outsize talent and an early death, Frederic Chopin and Mendelssohn shared a warm friendship.  No one matched Chopin’s genius in the realm of the keyboard, and, as Schumann declared, hearing the incomparably tender and rousing Piano Trio in D minor, “Mendelssohn is the Mozart of the 19th century.”   Fanny’s works were largely consigned to the drawing rooms of fashionable Berlin, but more recently are receiving their due in concert halls and on CD’s, having been rediscovered as works belonging in the classical pantheon. Three faces of Romanticism!

Irina Muresanu, violin; Max Levinson, piano; Yehuda Hanani, cello