Virtuosic, French-born cellist, Jean-Guihen Queyra, performs the complete six suites by Bach and contemporary pieces with proficiency, mastery and an afresh appreciation for classics at the Milton Court. With the exception of György Kurtág’s compositions, Queryas shares his passion for contemporary music with new pieces specifically written for him by the composers at the Ensemble Intercontemporain. The composers embraced the challenge of capturing the spirit of the suite that precedes their composition, adding a new dimension and perspective to the classic programme. 


Before the programme

The programme takes place in the world-class venue, Milton Court, situated at the heart of Barbican Estate. As the opening approached, people began to gather into the hall with excitement and curiosity. Swiftly, the lights dim, Queyra enters on stage accompanied with applause from the audience.


Part 1 of the programme

Italian composer Ivan  Fedele’s Arc-en-ciel opens the programme, which is a slow, beguiling and elegant piece. Effortlessly, Queyra transitions into Bach’s most popular and familiar piece, Suite No.1 in G major, BWV 1007. The prelude is centered around arpeggiated chords in which Queyra plays with vigour and precision taking the audience through a journey of infinite joy, warmth and beauty. By contrast, the following piece Pre-echo for Jean-Guinean by British composer Jonathan Harvey is minor, consisting of scales, dissonance and tension, foreshadowing Suite No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1008. Queyra performed suite no.2 with virtuosity, conveying a sense of yearning and intensity, especially in the last section (Gigue). Queyra executed the Gigue thrillingly, which consisted of complex rhythms, forte dynamics and ending with fierce descending and ascending semi-quaver scales. The concert hall immediately emerges with applause and a member of the audience next to me cries out



Part 2 of the programme 

After a 20 min intermission, Queyra performs three of György Kurtág  pre-existing pieces Az Hit…, Pilinszky János: Gérard de Nerval and Árnyak. It is worth mentioning that Kurtag is one of the most esteemed and widely performed contemporary composers, and the three pieces Queyra played are abstract and relatively novel. For example, in  Pilinszky János: Gérard de Nerval Queyra explores different techniques, articulations and timbre of the cello. This piece consisted of squeaky sounds created by playing the bow close to the bridge, ranging dynamics, short rests and unexpected pizzicatos. The beginning of Pilinszky János: Gérard de Nerval almost resembled the sound of a whale deep underwater, creating a distorted and nightmarish atmosphere. The third piece Árnyak consisted of descending scales, which lead directly into the beginning of descending scales in the third suite. The prelude in suite no.3 is made up of fast, semiquaver rhythm by which Queyras executed with precision and energy. Gilbert Amy’s En-Suite Prelude to Suite No 4 by Bach is another example of a contemporary piece that is more abstract and unique, it explores the range of pitches on the cello, uses pizzacao and creates squeaky sounds by playing close to the bridge of the cello. Queyra smoothly flows in Bach’s Suite No 4 in E flat Major, BWV 1010 , which is considered the most technically demanding suite, as Eb is an uncomfortable key on the cello. In the last section of the fourth suite, the rhythm was dance-like creating a more merry atmosphere, Bach repetition of and the variation of the motif was performed wonderfully by Queyra. Most interestingly, the motif was repeated quietly sounding almost like an echo, which really highlights how controlled Queyra’s playing is.


Part 3 of the programme

The final part of the programme is opened by Misato Mochizuki’s  Pré-écho Prelude to Suite No 5, which is inspired by the ornamentation in Bach’s fifth suite. In an interview prior to the concert, Queyra described Mochizuki’s piece as “technically the most challenging” with its “crazy scales”.  In this piece, Queyra slides up and down the cello, creating a very unique timbre and experience for the audience. Bach’s fifth suite was executed with intense emotion consisting of dark tonal hues and ornamentation in the prelude. Prior to the final contemporary piece of the programme, Queyra tells the audience he is “really impressed” and “what a joy to see so many people '' in the audience, and humorously shares other details about the cello and tuning. Ichiro Nodaira, a Japanese composer who lives in France, her composition, Enigma, precedes the final Bach suite. In comparison to the other contemporary pieces, Nodaria’s piece is seemingly aleatoric and is unafraid to be discordant, bold and forceful. In Bach’s last suite, Suite No 6 in D Major BWV 1012, the piece is far more lively with rapid fingering and movements. It sounded like a happy ending of a fairytale, a wonderful way to end the concert. As soon as Queyra finishes the final suite, the audience celebrated his talent, bursting into what seemed like a never-ending applause, resulting inQueyra bowing several times before the applause settled.


Final thoughts 

As a student studying music in college, Queyra’s performance was inspiring and foregrounded my love for music, as he showcased brilliantly Bach’s masterpieces. Queyra also properly introduced me to contemporary music, which I found to be very fascinating and intriguing. I really enjoyed this virtuosic and novel performance, and would encourage anyone who has the opportunity to go to see one of  Jean-Guihen Queyra’s concert.