Simone Dinnerstein took her “Bachpacking” tour to P.S. 142 in the Lower East Side and P.S. 042 in Chinatown on January 13. Simone performed and taught the students about Bach and his Inventions compositions.
As a part of her new “Bachpacking” initative, Simone will be performing Bach’s “Inventions” in ten schools around the New York City area before her concert at the Miller Theatre at Columbia University on Thursday, January 23 at 8PM. Simone will be “Bachpacking” with a digital piano provided by Yamaha that she will take from classroom to classroom.
Pamela Yau interviews world renowned cellist Jian Wang, as he speaks about Bach, the BBC Proms, and being Chinese.
Pageantry, patriotism, and rousing renditions of Jerusalem abound on the last night at the BBC Proms. Thousands gathered in Royal Albert Hall in South Kensington, London on Saturday, September 13th to mark the end of what has been called “the world’s greatest classical music festival”; at the same time millions more watched from home and in parks all over the UK in order to catch a glimpse of the spectacle that is the finale of the BBC Proms.
As captivating as the final night of the Proms may have been, on a late Sunday evening of August 24th, a lone musician with his cello demonstrated on the grand stage of RAH that there is nothing as powerful and awe inspiring as the brilliance of a great performance.
In honor of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, the BBC dedicated Proms 51, 52, and 53 to the Baroque composer, culminating with the performance of the first three Bach cello suites by world-renowned Chinese cellist, Jian Wang. In an unprecedented unaccompanied solo cello recital at the BBC Proms, Wang made his debut at the Proms performing the signature pieces of his extensive classical repertoire.
Wang has garnered much critical acclaim in recent years for his interpretations of the Bach’s cello suites, although the relationship he has had with these compositions stretch as far back as his days as a youth in China. He has gone on to perform these works with some of the most prominent orchestras and conductors around the world.
“These Bach cello pieces are very close to me,” Wang admitted. “They are basically your inner thoughts… they are good companions for your mind and heart.”
Wang has noted many western journalists have asked him if his Chinese heritage has an impact on his performance of Bach’s music. He has not been afraid to say exactly how he feels in relation to these queries as he has freely stated that he truly believes that his being Chinese has enabled him to better understand the work of Bach, even more so than a modern western musician probably would.
“Western culture has changed a lot,” Wang points out. With Chinese culture remaining close to the spiritual beliefs that it held hundreds of years ago; according to Wang, it shares many more characteristics with the customs and morals of Bach’s time than that of today’s western culture. It is this spirituality that he has grown to recognize in Bach’s work, as the composer himself was a deeply religious man. By creating music that reflected his own devout beliefs, Bach composed pieces that Wang has described as essentially being written “between the soul and god.”
“In front of god you must be humble and truthful,” said Wang, who embraces the essence of these morals when he performs Bach’s cello suites. “I don’t believe in controlling things musically,” he added. “It becomes contrived and planned.”
While other artists may place the audience first when they perform, Wang remains true to himself as he stated firmly, “I believe the best performances are when you play for yourself and your own heart.”
“For me, the best performance is when the audience forgets about the performer and thinks about their own stories,” he explained. “I want them to feel themselves and their own stories and feelings.”
He may have accomplished his objective at this most recent performance with the aid of the “promming” tradition at the BBC Proms that allows concertgoers to buy season or day tickets for the arena or gallery areas of RAH. On stage, Wang allowed himself to become completely immersed in his own playing, while some members of the audience unabashedly laid themselves out on the ground of the arena for all to see. With their hands covering their eyes to block out the already dimmed lights of the hall, these individuals were taking in the moment in the most naturalistic manner by letting their bodies filter the sound and sheer emotion of the power of the music.
In his playing, Wang captured each and every nuance of what has been considered to be the most beautiful and important music ever written for the cello. With the audience witnessing before their eyes this perfect union of music, musician, and instrument, these concertgoers are taken on one man’s journey through the intricacies of Bach’s masterpieces. No matter how fierce the playing became, there was a quality to Wang’s performance of these suites that made them incredibly soothing and enlightening. The deep mellow sounds of the cello reached into the depths of one’s consciousness as if a voice calling and beckoning one to follow it to where ever it may lead.
“I think they will never stop changing for me,” Wang says of the Bach cello suites. For Wang, with time the rules and aesthetics one uses to think about beauty continually revises itself and therefore so will he when it comes to the way he will play this music.
From Mao to Mozart
From RAH to the silver screen, Jian Wang’s rise to fame began at the age of 10 when he was featured in the Oscar winning documentary, From Mao to Mozart, which chronicled legendary violinist and teacher, Isaac Stern and his visit to China soon after the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1980.
The image of a little boy with his red bandana, white t-shirt, shorts, and socks with sandals, playing a cello almost as big as himself with great virtuosity has been engrained in viewers’ memories for almost 30 years now.
“I thought it was cool to be in the movie,” Wang said, in speaking about how he felt at that age in regards to his participating in the ground-breaking documentary.
“How I look at it [From Mao to Mozart] has changed,” Wang admits. “I don’t identify with that boy anymore…I think he’s cute.”
Looking back at the documentary From Mao to Mozart, Wang is very much aware of the historical significance of the film, as it captured a moment in time that showed China in transition.
“China was starting to open up but had not changed yet…isn’t it a miracle that in less than 30 years China has changed so much.”
After being “discovered” through his appearance in From Mao to Mozart, Wang left China at a fairly young age to continue his musical studies in the United States.
“My outlook is still very Chinese,” said Wang, who can still read Chinese and has maintained his love of Chinese literature.
In speaking of the US society he would later grow up in, he expressed his appreciation of its ability to accept all different types of individuals that come to reside in the country.
“What’s great about American culture is that it is very tolerant.”
With the recent staging of the summer Olympics in Beijing and the fact that his performance at the BBC Proms coincided with the final day of the event, Wang became inspired to show his pride in being Chinese. For this performance, he chose to wear a Chinese white silk mandarin collar shirt, although he usually wears a traditional tails tuxedo in concert.
By maintaining “a very Chinese way of thinking,” Wang stresses the importance of remaining humble, a virtue that is evident in many of his statements.
“The competition is fierce,” Wang said in regards to being a solo concert cellist in this day and age. In spite of his immense talent and international recognition as a classical musician, he says he feels incredibly lucky to be able to make his living performing music and travelling around the world doing what he loves.
Even with all that he has accomplished, Wang insists he really does not set goals for himself, it is simply not the way he leads his life. Instead, he would rather let things develop organically. As we live in a society where nothing seems more important than to “make things happen,” Wang instead takes on a different and more straightforward approach in dealing with how things may turn out in life.
“Let nature take care of itself,” he says, and for Wang it is as simple as that.
There is nothing more exciting for me than to see new and innovative uses of online media for the greater good! Philabundance's virtual food drive online platform is captivating and fun for donors and I am happy to have been able to utilize it to help raise money for such a good cause, fighting hunger in the Greater Philadelphia area and Delaware Valley.