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New Classical Tracks: Kim Kashkashian delves into Bach's Six Suites

Kim Kashkashian Steve Riskind
4min 59sec : New Classical Tracks: Kim Kashkashian
19min 20sec : New Classical Tracks: Kim Kashkashian (extended)

Kim Kashkashian — J.S. Bach: Six Suites for Viola Solo (ECM)

"With Bach, one is never completely right."

That's one thing violist Kim Kashkashian has discovered over her 50-year career. There's always something to learn when it comes to this great baroque master. Nevertheless, she decided to bite the bullet and document her interpretations of Bach's Six Suites for Viola Solo.

Kim, you are one of today's greatest advocates for the viola. You perform around the globe, and you teach, and you've also built the repertoire for your instrument by seeking out other composers who now also are seeking you out. Your new recording is taking a new approach to finding new repertoire for your instrument. It's a recording of the six suites by Bach, originally heard on cello; tell me why you wanted to do this.

"From the perspective of a violist, these suites are something we all grow up playing. Not to mention the fact that the solo cello suites are played on numerous instruments, including the marimba and the trombone. That having been said, I think there's a lot to be said for the viola version, which is simply one octave higher than the original cello version.

"But when we talk about the sixth suite, then it was actually written for another instrument entirely, which was a five-string instrument. So, I play it on a five-string viola, which, in a sense, is possibly at least as close to Bach's original intention as playing it on a four-string cello."

One of the things that I think you might be doing a bit differently or adding to this in terms of your perspective is the way that you use ornamentation, where you don't use it on the first pass through on a passage, but when you have a repeat or something, that's when you start to add in ornamentation. Can you talk about your approach to that?

"Of course. I also am making two sets of articulations. So the slurs and the separate notes are also sometimes grouped differently in the repetition of a movement. The repetition is to provide you the chance to create variety, to create perhaps your own personal reflection, on what the music is doing to you and hopefully to the audience at that given moment.

"Hopefully, if I were to do it again, the ornamentations would have a different flavor. It's not something that you want to see repeated. So I decided to include it simply as an example, but hopefully not something that will be imitated."

You mean others, or by you yourself?

"Both. If I walked up on stage and did exactly what was on that recording today, I would be remiss and not being creative. So hopefully that would never happen to me, and I would hope that others would simply use it as, 'Oh yeah, that's possible. Maybe I could do this instead. Or this, plus.' So, it's only a jumping off point."

Do you have a favorite among these six suites?

"I suppose over the course of a month that the E flat suite might show up a little more frequently. And the G major suite might show up a little more frequently for me, but not by much, because it's both mood and atmosphere-dependent. It's like looking at your library and saying, 'I have all these wonderful books here. Which one do I feel like picking up this morning.'"

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.


J.S. Bach: Six Suites for Viola Solo (Amazon)