Come to the (BaCH) Cabaret: Art of Elan experiments with concert set-up in La Jolla

Violinist Johnny Gandelsman will play Bach's six Cello Suites at The JAI cabaret in La Jolla's Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, March 23, 2020.
(Courtesy Photo)

This may be Beethoven’s big year, but if — like me — you’re a lifelong go-for-Baroque music-lover, Bach is always in season. So it’s great news that the adventurous Art of Elan, a nonprofit arts organization that has been making classical and contemporary chamber music more audience-friendly for more than 12 years, is in the midst of a three-year BaCH (Beyond a Concert Hall) initiative, bringing the music of Johann Sebastian Bach to non-traditional venues.

On March 23, 2020, they’ll be presenting Brooklyn-based violinist Johnny Gandelsman at The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center in La Jolla, playing all six of Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello — on violin. And it won’t be in The Conrad’s concert hall, but in the intimate cabaret space called The JAI, where attendees can precede the musical feast with light bites and cocktails.

“What Johnny does with Bach’s Cello Suites is a miraculous feat,” said Kate Hatmaker, co-founder and artistic director of Art of Elan. “And the audience won’t be sitting in church with their hands folded in their laps, they’ll be sharing the experience. It will feel like you’re sitting in a living room together, like you’re on the same playing field as the performer. We’re all running a marathon together, but he’s doing most of the lifting!”

Gandelsman is no stranger to The JAI, where he appeared last spring with his Brooklyn Rider Quartet as part of The Conrad’s grand opening weekend. A Grammy-winning violinist born into a family of musicians in Moscow, he started playing violin at age 5, and at age 12 (shortly after his family moved to Israel), he began giving public performances.

He went on to the Curtis School of Music in Philadelphia, which provides full scholarships to exceptional students from around the world, and has called Brooklyn home since 2003.

Besides performing with Brooklyn Rider, the Silkroad Ensemble, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and other notable musicians, Gandelsman is also a record producer, and recently released his own album of Bach’s Cello Suites, played on violin.

“I didn’t want to emulate what the music sounds like on a cello,” he said. “I just wanted to embrace what it feels like on the violin. It’s been very rewarding to spend time with these pieces, a great platform for growth and discovery.”

Gandelsman’s sold-out performance of the complete suites at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium last month was a grand success; the Boston Globe praised “his exquisitely personal vision of Bach” and “the spell this performance cast.” Now we have a chance to fall under his spell at The JAI.

Violin vs. Cello

Both instruments are members of the violin family, which originated in 16th century Italy. The cello is larger, lower-pitched, and played sitting down. Both commonly have four strings, though some violins may have more than four, which gives them a wider range. Johnny Gandelsman will be playing Bach’s Sixth Cello Suite on a five-string violin; Bach originally wrote it for a five-string cello.

“In the Cello Suites, Bach was like an inventor, a scientist, trying to figure out what the instrument could do,” Gandelsman said. “In the fifth suite, he’s experimenting with a different tuning; in the sixth, it’s a different instrument altogether. First, I had to find a five-string violin, which is not very common in classical music. But in the world of folk music, many fiddlers have five strings. That’s how I found mine; then I had to figure out how to make it work.”

IF YOU GO: Violinist Johnny Gandelsman plays Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, 7 p.m. Monday, March 23, 2020 at The JAI performance hall inside The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, 7600 Fay Ave. Pre-concert talk by cellist Alex Greenbaum, 6 p.m. Drinks and light bites available for purchase. Tickets avalable at Box Office or (858) 459-3728. $35. Table seating $75. Student tickets $20.