Nicola Lisle talks to cellist Natalie Clein about the Bach Project
The spotlight is about to be thrown on one of the world’s best-loved composers, JS Bach, in a special project instigated by cellist Natalie Clein.
The project is part of Natalie’s remit as Director of Performance at the Faculty of Music, a newly-created post that she will hold for four years.
Catching up with her near her London home recently, I found her full of enthusiasm for her new role.
“It’s very exciting,” she told me. “It’s a new post so I have a blank canvas. I hope everybody agrees with what I do!
“It’s a mixture of working with the students, looking at the art of performing as well as approaching it from an academic point of view.”
Central to her four-year tenure is the Bach Project, which kicks off at the Holywell Music Room this weekend with a day of lectures, masterclasses and discussion, featuring harpsichordist Maggie Cole, violinist Kati Debretzni, cellist David Watkin and Natalie herself.
They are joined by Oxford’s professional baroque orchestra Instruments of Time and Truth for an evening concert, which will include Bach’s Cello Suite No.1, Sonata in G major BWV1019, Harpsichord Concerto No.4 in A major BWV 1055 and excerpts from The Art of Fugue.
The project stems from Natalie’s long-held fascination for Bach’s music.
“I have so many questions I want to ask about Bach from a performer’s point of view, and this is a way of asking questions of people that I really respect and admire, and see what comes out. It means delving into what it means to be involved with performance practice, looking at the score, looking at traditions, looking at primary sources, talking to academics and talking to modern performers.
“As a performer, I believe it’s important to be academically informed as much as possible, and more knowledge in my case brings more inspiration. It’s a very musical and creative discussion, and there are probably lots of answers. There’s never going to be only one truth for music.”
This weekend is just the start of a four-year Bach journey, as Natalie is keen to emphasise. “We’re not covering all aspects of Bach in a day – we’d need a lifetime for that!
“It’s an ongoing discussion and I thought, why don’t we have an audience listening in? I suppose that’s what the post is about - asking questions in a way that involves students and the general public.” Natalie’s own musical journey began at the age of four, when she started playing the violin “but didn’t really get on with it”. She switched to the cello at the age of six, and has never looked back. These days, she juggles a busy performing and recording career with the demands of a young family.
“The main thing that’s really changed for me since having children is that you have to be constantly interruptible!” she laughs.
“Once you accept that, you grab all the time you can.”
Natalie has played in Oxford many times, and is looking forward to becoming more closely acquainted with the city over the next four years.
“I would love to spend more time in Oxford,” she says. “So let’s see how the post develops. It might be a nice excuse for moving to Oxford!”
Bach Project: A Beginning
Holywell Music Room
Saturday, from 11am
Tickets: 01865 305305 or ticketsoxford.com