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Journeys

THE PERFORMERS'

JOURNEY

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Judith Cox

Violinist

My journey on the Biber/Biber path is one that is full of both excitement and apprehension--taking this path not only begins the search for meaning behind each composer's writings, but also puts me back in relationship with mentors whose guidance shaped my approach to music. Music immerses me in a way that can be spiritual, reflective or transformative, but it also affects how I feel. These emotions are bound to be different at different periods of my life, so this makes every performance a unique adventure. For me, the challenge of interpreting this music is to respect the intentions of a composer while honoring those who have gently pointed me in the direction that has led to this moment. 

 

Performing all of the Bach Solo Partitas retraces the steps I took to learn them all those years ago, from the age of 13 until 49. Solo Bach is a staple of every violinist's core training. But when I revisit each during this process, now I am inspired by this composer's deep devotion, spirituality and amazing creativity. Bach remains larger than life for me, and performing these masterpieces is a privilege and deepens my love for this composer. I hope to do them justice.

When I first met Baroque violinist Stanley Ritchie at Indiana University in the 1980's, I was struck by his profound kindness, brilliance and knowledge. Learning the final Passacaglia of the Rosary Sonatas with him was like diving into a new world. It stuck with me, and I have performed the Passacaglia with modern and baroque tuning and Baroque bow. But realizing that this sonata was only the tip of the iceberg of a much larger body of work was intriguing. And connecting with Baroque violinist Andrew Manze, whose Rosary Sonata recordings are peerless, has been an invaluable source of guidance.

The events that took place around the pandemic of 2020 have changed my approach to music. I did not realize that as the world struggled, my inner world was expanding, and I was finding deeper meaning to the music that I had always appreciated but maybe hadn't always felt. Somehow the role of music in today's world seems different, more important, maybe more present. There is an urgency to find meaning at a time when so many events create uncertainty about why we are here. Maybe it is because we are here that the path becomes more certain.

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Julie Ryder

Organist

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Julie Ryder

Organist

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In the summer of 2019, Judith approached me about a possible partnership in presenting Heinrich Biber’s Rosary Sonatas. At that time, I was several years into the planning of a national convention of the American Guild of Organists as part of the convention steering committee. Not knowing anything at all about these extraordinary pieces, I thought we could perform them as part of pre- or post-convention concerts that would take place in July of 2020—all of them in one recital! Of course I soon learned that a single concert was an unrealistic undertaking and that Judith’s plan was to perform them all over the course of a few years. Spending most of my “free time” on the convention, the Sonatas did not hold much of my attention in the coming months and fairly soon after our first read-through of Sonata I, the Covid-19 pandemic put this project on hold and of course caused the cancelation of the AGO National Convention.


In the spring of 2023, Judith asked me if I had an interest in beginning again and since that time, during my study and practice of these sonatas, I find that I am equally inspired and awe-struck at nearly every turn. The vision and creation of music that is able to move the performer and the listener is miraculous and is a worthy framework for meditation and worship.  

The Performers' Reflections on Year One

JUDITH COX, violinist

 

From a career as an orchestral musician, the process of separating my individual voice from the collective whole of the larger group in order to prepare for the Bach/Biber Project has been challenging, to say the least. To get there, I have to remember what it felt like to pick up the violin for the first, second, or even 50th time. I almost have to imagine the wonder of a small child who must have been fascinated by the sounds that this ornate wooden music box could produce. But the wonder really began when the instrument spoke, and I recognized her voice.

As captivated as I am by the music I hear, create or imagine, I am also aware that the voices that emerge from the works of musicians such as Bach and Biber are not separated from us by centuries, but connected to us by our shared humanity. As a musician, to play this music is to be the medium that channels their intentions, and to know how to allow my voice to express that connection in the present moment. 

Beyond the many technical challenges that this music presents, finding its “soul” is part of the journey of the Bach/Biber Project. Connecting with the spiritual depth of this music often means stepping away and being silent until the deeper meaning begins to show. Only when it surfaces from time to time do I realize what a privilege it is to be on this path.

JULIE RYDER, organist 

Like so many others, I have always been fascinated by the career of J.S. Bach, especially his time in Leipzig when his work was primarily at St. Thomas School and St. Thomas Church. While preparing choirs, teaching students, and practicing his instruments he was composing the greatest orchestral, organ, choral, and solo instrumental works of his time and to this day. His musical genius is highlighted every week in worship services, and his name and compositions are celebrated daily in recitals and concerts throughout the western world. 

Much of Bach’s choral music is sacred given its marriage to the biblical texts and religious prose and poetry of his time; the audience may be moved by the text or the music or its combination. Inspiration for Bach’s instrumental music, though sometimes explicit, is often left to the listener’s imagination, and the beauty and genius of the solo works that Judith performed this year assure me (whether this is true or not) that Bach was inspired by the Divine.

Having studied and performed the first 5 of Biber’s Rosary Sonatas this year, I am not only struck by Biber’s virtuosity but also his innovation in making the alternate violin tunings (scordatura) an essential part of the compositions; the creative, intellectual and spiritual framework cannot be denied. Sharing this 300 year-old music is a privilege that I am only beginning to grasp and I look forward to exploring the Sorrowful and Glorious mysteries in the coming years.

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