Culture Magazine

The Superconductor Interview: Michelle Ross

By Superconductor @ppelkonen
The violinist has the keys to Bach's solo repertory for her instrument.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

The Superconductor Interview: Michelle Ross

Violinist Michelle Ross.
Photo © The Juilliard School.

"There are so many ways in to this music." Violinist Michelle Ross is speaking of the height of the repertory for her instruments: the six Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin by Johann Sebastian Bach. She last played these works on December 27th in a complete cycle. On Sunday at Le Poisson Rouge, she will offer Discovering Bach, interspersing movements from the six with pieces from Messiaen and Ravel.
"I thought so much about what it means to have these as one work and then to live through it in real time, it's a whole other experience. It's very challenging it takes a lot of stamina physical emotional, perspective while portraying this huge story."
Her new recording of these works Discovering Bach came out last month on Albany Records. "For me the decision to record them was one of these things that it felt like there was no other choice. I received a fellowship. So I thought: 'I'm a young musician. What can I do that will give me the most challenge? What's going to push me the hardest?' I felt like you have to be so courageous and honest with this music and I will be striving with these works forever. There's something kind of beautiful in acknowledging that you're young."
"There's so much reverence around Bach that you don't want to approach it and there's never going to be a moment when I say now I 'deserve' to record them. If you take any score it starts as kind of an ideal. As written down by the composer it exists in a Utopian space. recording vs real time is a very different experience."
There was a moment of arrival in terms of owning my ability to communicate. It was the E Major Partita that taught me how to let go of these fears: it's such a joyous moment. Just the significance of that first motive. You finally arrive at that E Major that the leading tone is a sweet dissonance rather than resignation. The way it comes out of the Grave compared to the G minor adagio and these sweeping chords is like a pendulum. There's no slow movement, it's just this joy
"The dances in the violin partitas, a lot of them seem somber. The E major helped me put the rest into perspective. It's really easy to get encapsulated in this bubble of practice and experience, but it's the most honest way I've lived life. Maybe because there's nothing else there: me and my instrument and the music. That experience can be this personal thing and I cant just keep it to myself."
"Since it's solo repertoire, you can't hide anything. With Bach it's so pure: simple in a way that there's nothing excess in there. The music is communicating things so much greater than you can comprehend. At first listen I believe anyone will be moved but the more you study and play them and analyze them. Its like a universe that keeps expanding. Technically they are so challenging and that's also really fun, you're going to get better as you play them and perform them."
"For me to make this recording it taught me how to practice the music, to make my first statement about these works. It led me to continue to want to master them more deeply. It is a rite of passage, a beginning of a journey. I'm very aware that this recording, made two years ago is just a moment in time. I still practice Bach every day and perform it as much as I can."

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