Ahhhh, Bach . . . "Mello Cello."

  • Jun 1, 2011

A Slightly Askew View of the Oregon Bach Festival.

MELLO CELLO. What's not to like about the cello? It has a pleasing shape reminiscent of a Botero subject. It's capable of making music that makes us feel as if we'd been submerged in soft, warm caramel. (Warning: Metaphorical intent only; do not attempt at home.) And, unlike the guitar, it's exceedingly difficult to pull off a convincing "air cello" performance. In fact, former Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore credits the cello's complexities for convincing him to return to the guitar. And, hence, for better or worse, "Smoke on the Water." CELLO DALI! Throughout the years, the cello has been the subject of paintings by Romantics and Traditionalists, body artists and Surrealists. Dali, for example, seems to have had some unresolved issue with the instrument, having produced works with such titles as "St. George Overpowering a Cello," "Bed and Bedside Table Ferociously Attacking a Cello" and "Topological Contortion of a Female Figure Becoming a Cello."

Traditionally Surreal?

Charlie Chaplin composed a number of scores for the cello, collected in a recording titled "Oh! That Cello!" It's also been featured in a number of popular films, including "Master and Commander," "The Soloist" and "No Good Deed," and its haunting tones have animated otherwise lifeless films like "The Hunger," "The Witches of Eastwick" and "Ghostbusters 2." Scary! DIFFERENT STROKES? In 1971 experimental artist Nam June Paik invented something he called "The TV Cello," deviating significantly, we suspect, from the process described in the documentary film "Building a Cello with Harold." Paik's cello incorporated three functional television sets, thereby allowing audiences to attend a performance without having to miss an episode of "Different Strokes." Judging by this performance, however, The TV Cello was not designed to produce sounds reminiscent of being submerged in soft, warm caramel. CELLO SWEETS. Audiences can look forward to more traditional expressions of the cello's finely tuned capabilities during three OBF concerts this season. On June 23, the magnificent Yo-Yo Ma will perform Bach's "Magnificat" and Golijov's "Azul," which was composed specifically for him. On June 27, the always-fabulous Portland Cello Project will grace the Hult Center Lobby with an "On the House" recital. And rising star Alban Gerhardt will perform solo cello suites by Bach and Benjamin Britten in the Beall Concert Hall on June 27, June 29 and July 1. Don't make the mistake of confusing "traditional" compositions with staid or sedate performances. All three of these featured performers have displayed innovative approaches and an appreciation of contemporary sensibilities. Yo-Yo Ma played cello on Carlos Santana's version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and has accompanied street-dance prodigy Lil Buck. In an interview with the Internet Cello Society, Gerhardt said of his performance style, "I love to leave some space for spontaneity, or should I call it a risk for disaster!" And the Portland Cello Project has performed songs by Led Zeppelin and Kanye West. How sweet is that? By the way, what is this strange obsession cellists seem to have with Led Zeppelin? Not that there's anything wrong with that. In fact, it can be quite heavenly. CRIMINAL PURSUITS? In last week's quiz, we asked what notorious career criminal got his start as a cellist. His playing itself was described as a crime, but in "Take the Money and Run" Woody Allen's hapless character Virgil Starks played the cello in a marching band. See for yourself. Next week we'll look at OBF's upcoming performances of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy," scheduled for July 9 in Portland's Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall and July 10 in the Silva Concert Hall. It would be criminal to miss them.

In the interim, here's another and, alas, our final Pop Quiz:

Beethoven is said to have experienced a complete change of perspective

during the premier performance of his Ninth Symphony.

What caused this dramatic turn-around?

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