Collaborators Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Thile, and Edgar Meyer tackle the music of J.S. Bach | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Collaborators Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Thile, and Edgar Meyer tackle the music of J.S. Bach

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In his liner-note essay for the new Bach Trios (Nonesuch) pianist and composer Timo Andres writes of Bach’s work, “Part of the utility of his music is its protean adaptability to any number of instrumental combinations; the labor of performing is divided easily into voices or parts, each a satisfying narrative thread on its own.” Indeed, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, bassist Edgar Meyer, and mandolinist Chris Thile traverse a variety of works the composer originally penned for different instruments. There are a slew of pieces for solo keyboards—including selections from The Art of the Fugue and The Well-Tempered Clavier—as well as ones written for solo organ or viola da gamba, each of which has been transcribed for the unusual instrument combination these three versatile musicians present. They first performed Bach together as an encore to their performances in 2012, when they toured behind The Goat Rodeo Sessions, a recording with fiddler Stuart Duncan that brings a refined chamber-music approach to original bluegrass material. That endeavor reinforced their unwillingness to be boxed in by their musical backrounds. In fact, Meyer has been toggling between classical and country/bluegrass for three decades, while Thile, the new host of A Prairie Home Companion, released a convincing solo recital of Bach partitas and sonatas in 2013 (he also recently made a duo album with jazz pianist Brad Melhdau). Ma has famously used his Silk Road Ensemble to introduce works by composers and musicians from the Far East and Central Asia to new audiences, among other crossover efforts that have been less successful (1992’s Hush with Bobby McFerrin). They might not offer definitive readings here, but they do a splendid job, and there’s no shame in any effort that invites listeners to experience a musical repertoire they might not be familiar with.   v

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