Hailed by The Daily Gazette as possessing a “lustrous ringing tone, facile technique and [a] strong convincing grasp of the baroque style,” André Laurent O’Neil offers a fresh rendering of J.S. Bach’s famous Cello Suites, in what has become his lifelong journey of personal exploration and self-reflection.
J.S. BACH: Cello Suites
ANDRÉ LAURENT O'NEIL, baroque cello & violoncello piccolo
Released on March 20, 2020
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JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH (1685–1750): 6 Suites à Violoncello Solo senza Basso
by André Laurent O’Neil
Johann Sebastian Bach’s works in general, and especially his solo cello suites, have been my musical food since I started playing the cello. My love and appreciation for his compositional mastery have only deepened over time. Exploring the Suites has guided my musical journey, leading me to specialize in baroque performance practice.
In making this recording, I wanted a high quality and rigorously thought out model, both to show how I think the Suites are best enjoyed, and as a guide for my students. Respect for Bach’s text, his musical style, and the common language of the musical forms he used (preludes and dance movements), ground my playing. I use Anna Magdalena Bach’s manuscript as a primary source. The historical setup of the instrument, including gut strings and historical temperaments, and a live natural acoustic complete my efforts to recreate Bach’s sound world.
Balanced against these principles, I make interpretative decisions based on three factors. First, the manuscript itself is not always clear or consistent regarding bowings, and I have not hesitated to change them or to correct other minor details based on my best understanding of Bach’s musical style. Second, I seek to enhance my performance throughout with all the elements that don’t get written down. Thus I have created and then varied the dynamics, applied ornaments on repeats, modified phrasing and timing, composed first and second endings, added and subtracted chords, presented the same passage on different strings for color variety, and occasionally even chromatically altered the printed note. My goal is never to offer the same sequence of notes the same way twice and to otherwise maximize variety in every possible way while staying firmly within the musical style of Bach’s time. Third, I wanted to engage my creativity as a performer and composer. I allow myself to take certain historically imaginable liberties with the text even if they might have raised Bach’s eyebrow. Bach himself amended details every time he copied a piece, whether it was his or someone else’s. In short, I have valued expressivity, dynamic energy and a unique interpretation over safety and a strict textual reading.
ME and BACH
My father, Richard Charles O’Neil, was my first cello teacher. The very first piece he had me perform in public, as a fifth grader, was Bourée I from Bach’s C major Suite. He even made me read it from manuscript: his hand-written copy. Today I read it from Anna Magdalena Bach’s.
I was in high school when the dynamic Dutch baroque cellist Anner Bylsma performed all of Bach’s Suites in two concerts on consecutive days. How different his sound was from the usual cello voice, how different his interpretation from anything I was used to hearing! Bylsma, probably the first baroque cellist in the modern era to perform all six Suites internationally, even introduced us to the exotic five-string violoncello piccolo, on which he played the D major Suite.
As an undergraduate student at Yale, I used to read through the Suites for myself in my dorm room. My teacher, Aldo Parisot, however, appeared not to share my enthusiasm for learning them. He insisted that only after first learning all of the Preludes – at the time this seemed quite forbidding – could one then choose a Suite to work on in its entirety.
After graduating from Yale with honors I took my first job as principal cellist of the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra. One of my favorite programs featured Bach’s Wedding Cantata with its florid cello runs. Subsequently, I moved to Spain to work fulltime with the Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León in Valladolid. By this time, I had taught myself the first three Suites. Accordingly, I programmed a mini-series of three concerts, each one featuring a Suite juxtaposed against a major solo work from the twentieth century. I performed these both in Valladolid and in my hometown of Guilderland, New York. Later that year, I traveled to Switzerland to consult with cellist Dmitry Markevitch, a published expert on the solo cello repertoire. He introduced me to other solo cello works from around the time of Bach and allowed me to try his baroque cello, encouraging me to explore that instrument further as a way of deepening my understanding of the Suites.
His advice took on new meaning when I discovered a whole different approach to learning music and playing the cello through continuing education seminars in early music at the University of Salamanca in Spain.
I knew I was on the right path on the very first day as I intently observed cellist Norbert Zaubermann teach the C minor Suite using Bach’s specific scordatura tuning. I didn’t want to miss or forget a single fingering. I had studied the work at Yale, but with modifications, as my teachers there taught the Suite exclusively with a standard cello tuning.
Just over a year later, I was admitted for formal study to the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. For three intense years I immersed myself in the world of baroque cello, taking lessons with Jaap ter Linden while completing a Certificate in Early Music and Historical Performance. Naturally, Bach’s Suites were an essential part of my chosen program.
On returning to the U.S. in 2002, I performed for the first time the entire set of six Suites at two concerts a half-year apart at the University at Albany. Over three consecutive summers beginning in 2007, I performed the cycle again, two Suites at a time. These concerts took place outdoors at the West Side Community Gardens in New York City, as part of their Music In A Garden concert series. On January 10, 2015, I undertook the complete set for a third time, all in an afternoon, and all from memory, at St. Peter’s Church in Bennington, and then I knew I was ready to record.
BIOGRAPHY OF THE ARTIST:
Cellist, viola da gambist, pianist, and composer André Laurent O’Neil has performed in distinguished venues worldwide, such as Carnegie Hall, Symphony Hall in Boston, Disney Hall in Los Angeles, Musikverein in Vienna, and the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. He has performed with renowned groups such as the Handel & Haydn Society, New Trinity Baroque, and Il Rossignolo, among others. He is Principal Cellist of the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra and Studio Instructor of Cello at Union College.
On Edition Lilac he is a soloist on the CD album of Vivaldi’s Concertos, and the continuo player in Bach’s Violin Concertos, Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu Nostri, Handel’s Arias and Baroque Christmas. André loves gardening, foreign languages, creative writing, and watercolors.