From New York to Germany, pianist Matt Herskowitz has taken his music to a whole other level when it comes to technique and performance flair. So many artists are fusing some of the classical world’s most well known compositions with other genres and here is another great example of that.
Over the last decade, Herskowitz has produced a series of critically acclaimed recordings with also some pretty big names inlcuding the talented Lara St. John. Expressed as “genre-bending musical explorations”, his career as revolved around “incorporating classical idioms with Jazz and World music”.
His latest project, Bach XXI, ” is a unique fusion on Bach’s original music that integrates a multitude of different styles, including Jazz, Latin, World and Contemporary Classical”. Collaborating with violinist Philippe Quint, we are taken into a world that has been reimagined and has proposed a “modern vision of Bach’s music, creating a new window through which to experience the works of the world’s greatest composer of any era, music which is, by it’s very nature, timeless”.
MH: The idea for this album came from a concert my trio performed with violinist Philippe Quint at the El Paso Chamber Music Festival in El Paso, Texas. I arranged a few Bach pieces for us to play with him for the performance, and Philippe liked them so much he asked me to compose an entire album of arrangements of Bach’s music. I was intrigued by the idea, so we set a date for the recording (already a difficult task between all of our schedules) and I got to work. I began to realize that Bach’s music is uniquely ideal for making arrangements; due to the wholly integrated nature of his music, you can put it in any setting or style, and even add to it, and the music always stays intact – i.e., it’s still always Bach!
MC: Can you share the musical process behind arranging an album like this?
MH: The styles of the arrangements in Bach XXI are different from my previous efforts. For this project, I dove deeper into the music, pulling inspiration for grooves, bass lines, harmonies and new melodic material from the source and weaving them into the original scores. I feel that this approach allowed me the freedom to explore different settings and moods for my arrangements, while at the same time, keeping the integrity of the original structures, melodies and basic harmonic foundation. Ultimately, my approach was not to “jazz up” Bach, but rather to reinterpret his music through my own filter without actually changing his music. There are added sections for improvisation but it’s mostly all composed with the original scores always at the center of each arrangement.
In researching repertoire for the album, I listened to hundreds of hours of Bach’s music and found that, for the most part, either an idea for an arrangement hit me right away or not at all. Given the time constraints for the completion of the project, I decided that this would be a prudent way to proceed. Fortunately, there were plenty of pieces which immediately inspired ideas for arrangements, so I had no shortage of material to work with.
Finally, with a project this big, there must a method or system that ties it all together. I ended up using four self-imposed rules when making the arrangements for this album:
1. I couldn’t remove anything from the structure of the pieces, for example, I did not “edit” Bach. It all had to be there, or it no longer qualified as an arrangement.
2. I was allowed to add to the existing structure – this opened up the possibilities for solos, new sections, intros, codas and bridge material.
3. When using any part of Bach’s original music, I told myself not to change it. To do this would also be editing Bach to suit my purposes, and I felt that would be going too far. It had to stay Bach.
4. It was a must to use all essential material of the original music, that being all principal melodic lines and counterpoint. I could, however, decide not to use any inner voice harmonic material in favour of my own harmonic voicings. I could transform them rhythmically as well; for example, substituting a straight quarter note bass line with a rhythmically funkier line. I was able to embellish melodic material where I felt it was appropriate for the arrangement. An example of this is in the D minor “Double” violin concerto.
MC: Singling out the Cello Suite No.1, BWV 1007, you have taken this classic baroque favourite and turned it into a world of romance with a jazzy twist. Walk us through what was going on in your head when arranging this specific composition.
MH: Interesting you singled out this one, as I think this arrangement is somewhat unique on the album. First, I came up with a lush, romantic setting, something like a soft pop ballad feel, which immediately sets the tone for the arrangement. Next, the principle idea was to seamlessly weave the iconic single-line melody between the violin and piano. As I got further into this process and started adding my own melodic material, I realized that Bach’s melody did not necessarily have to be the focus of the arrangement at all times; sometimes I could shift the focus to my own melody and continue Bach’s original line in my left hand as an accompaniment. For example, I liked this idea of the original melodic line swimming through an ocean of lush harmonies; at various points on top, in the middle or below, with new melodies weaving in and out, everything floating by and around each other. I guess you could call this a romantic ideal.
Herskowitz and Quint will be performing Bach XXI in New York at the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center on February 18th.
For more information visit nwbachfest.com/calendar