The genius of Bach at the Festival of Chichester

cellist Pavlos Carvalho
cellist Pavlos Carvalho

Pavlos Carvalho dives into the inexhaustible genius of Bach for the Festival of Chichester.

“Bach can speak to us, all people, all of us, at so many different levels,” says Pavlos who will play the solo Bach Cello Suites 1 and 2 at St John’s Chapel, St John’s Street, Chichester on Tuesday, June 19, at 1pm.

“You can enjoy Bach as a beginner on your instrument, when you are first introduced to classical music and just starting to learn about harmony.

“Everything you need to know about harmony is in Bach. He has been a teacher for so many different musicians of so many different genres all of whom look back to Bach.

“And then, of course, you can enjoy Bach at an advanced level as a performer with more experience in life.

“You can always hear Bach in your own personal ways. You can hear something very spiritual, something very cathartic.

“I grew up on Bach. I was listening to Bach every day ever since I can remember. My father, who is 75, used to play and still does play Bach every morning, and I just think you can’t ever get enough of such a good thing. It is not a question of hearing so much that it puts you off. It is a question of the more you hear, the more you want to hear.

“You can never have enough of this music. When you are doing your first notes on the cello, you can already play the opening notes of a glorious Bach suite, and it makes you feel that you can do something that is way beyond you, but it makes you see the potential. It was my first experience of learning the cello.

“Now I am older, you see different things. You see the symmetry and the voicings.

“It means different things as you get older. As a young boy, you almost hear it like a fairy tale. You can see the simple story in the music. But as you get older, you are seeing it… not necessarily more technically, but more musically.

“You start by hearing the beautiful sounds, but then you start understanding like the grammar behind the most beautiful poetry.

“The more you understand it, the more you understand the genius. As you grow older, you don’t lose that more instinctive side, but as you go through life, you suffer loss, you gain things, things change, and that’s why Bach is played at so many different things, for weddings, for funerals, for the fall of the Berlin Wall, for absolutely everything. Bach is absolutely everywhere.

“If you sit down and start playing Beethoven, you can feel the same way, and I think it is Bach and Beethoven that have the longest shelf life. However beautiful someone like Rachmaninov or Dvorak, however hugely profound they are as composers, you can play the Rachmaninov Sonata 30 times and feel you know it.

“But with Bach, you will always see something new, always discover some connection between the bars that you haven’t seen before. It would be incredible hubris ever to think that you have somehow ‘got’ Bach. The more you play, the more beautiful it is, and the more frustrating it becomes as you wonder whether you are ever going to understand.

“However much you play it, you realise that there is always more to understand. And that’s why we keep coming back to it. You can be rehearsing for something else, for some other concert, and yet you always just keep returning to Bach. It is something that will always keep you coming back.”

Tickets £10; students and children £5. Disabled access.

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