“Re: Bach” is Rachel Lee Priday’s personal ode to the violin, an instrument whose lyrical power is second only to the human voice. As an unaccompanied instrument, however – responsible for harmony, melody, rhythm, and the creation of many voices – the violin is not without challenge: it relies on the imagination and ingenuity of both composer and performer, on technical skill, on the communication of clear musical intent, and not least, on the listener’s active participation in experiencing aural illusions. In aiming to shed light on the violin as a complete concert instrument alone, Rachel Lee Priday explores the history and future of the solo violin repertoire, while featuring phenomenally virtuosic and varied music stretching from 1676 to 2018. With Bach as a cornerstone, the program centers upon a new commission from Timothy Andres, his first extended solo work for violin, as well as a new arrangement of Ryan Francis’s “Sillage” for violin and tape by the composer.

Over the centuries, much of the repertoire for solo violin has been self-referential – tending toward sequences, quotation, and recurring forms. Curiously, many pieces for unaccompanied violin tend to be about the history of music for unaccompanied violin. In this way, contemporary works are naturally close in spirit to early works for solo violin and can be brought into conversation with centuries-old ideas, structures, motifs, and gestures.

From a single instrument, and from a single harmonic progression, Bach constructs in the awe-inspiring Chaconne, like the processes of nature, a complex and universal reality that spans the depths of grief, wonder, and ecstatic joy. While Bach’s Chaconne has inspired numerous arrangements for various solo instruments throughout the centuries – in addition to accompanied versions by Mendelssohn and Schumann – the Chaconne in its original form conveys the purity and power unique to the solitary violinist, and the meaning written into Bach’s manuscript of the Six Sonatas and Partitas: “Sei Solo,” or in Italian, “you are alone.”

Though one of a series of fourteen works for various solo instruments and voices, Berio’s bracing, knotty Sequenza VIII for solo violin had special significance for the composer, as a violinist himself. An explicit tribute to Bach’s Chaconne, Berio’s SequenzaVIII is also the composer’s personal expression of gratitude to the violin, which he calls “one of the most subtle and complex of instruments.”

Andres’s new solo work will form the center of the program, exploring the reverberations of the rich history of unaccompanied violin music into the present day.

John Zorn’s Passagen, written for Elliott Carter on his 103rd birthday, is “a brief history of solo violin music.” Wildly virtuosic, it contains fragments from Bach and Bartok’s solo sonatas, among others, and is based on the B-A-C-H motif (B-flat, A, C, B-natural) – a musical cryptogram that has interested composers from Schumann, Liszt and Brahms to Schoenberg, Schnittke, and Arvo Part.

Heinrich Biber’s Passacaglia, the final piece in a collection of fifteen Mystery Sonatas or Rosary Sonatas, is the oldest and earliest sustained work for unaccompanied violin before Bach’s Chaconne. A continuously developing work, it contains sixty-five statements of variations over a repeated descending bass pattern, which comes from the traditional hymn to the Guardian Angel. Biber’s experimental violin writing in the late seventeenth century pioneered novel bowing techniques for the execution of chords and contrapuntal textures, laying the groundwork for Bach’s solo Sonatas and Partitas.

The program closes with a new arrangement of a work by Ryan Francis, which requires Bach’s “Double” from the B minor Partita to be performed immediately preceding it: “Sillage,” or in French, the “wake, trail” or “lingering fragrance.”

Short Program

Bach, Chaconne, from Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004 
Berio, Sequenza VIII 
Timo Andres, New Commission 
John Zorn, Passagen (2011)
Biber, Passacaglia in G Minor, from the “Mystery Sonatas” 
Bach, Double from Partita No. 1 in B Minor, BWV 1002
Ryan Francis, Sillage (2007) with tape (new arrangement)

Long Program

Bach, Double from Partita No. 1 in B Minor, BWV 1002
Ryan Francis, Sillage (2007) with tape (new arrangement)
Biber, Passacaglia in G Minor, from the “Mystery Sonatas” 
John Zorn, Passagen (2011)
Timo Andres, New Commission 
Berio, Sequenza VIII 
Bach, Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004