Antonio Lysy brings Bach to the future in sculpture garden performance
Cello professor and string area chair, Antonio Lysy plays the cello surrounded by lit candles. Lysy will play suites from Bach during the “Bach in the Serra” concert at 7pm on Friday. (Courtesy of the Herb Alpert School of Music)
“Bach in the Serra”
Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden
By Kevin Lin
Sept. 23, 2022 3:43 p.m.
Antonio Lysy is translating Bach’s musical phrases to unconventional stages.
On Sept. 23 in the Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden, the cello professor and string area chair will perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s six cello suites inside artist Richard Serra’s sculpture, “Torqued Ellipse,” in an event titled “Bach In the Serra.” Lysy said the main inspiration for playing the suites, an ordered set of classical works, in “Torqued Ellipse” was to experiment with the unique acoustics in the enclosed space the sculpture offers. For Lysy, the experimentation of playing music in a public space allows for art to be a more accessible interpretation of both Bach and Serra.
“Bringing classical music to different audiences, but also to present it in a different light, has always been part of my work,” Lysy said.
Bach’s cello suites are distinct within classical repertoire as they are one of the few pieces in which the cellist plays unaccompanied, said Robert Baker, senior writer at the Herb Alpert School of Music. The individual aspects of the music and Bach stretching the limits of the cello as an instrument evoke a sublime and spiritual attitude he said characterizes the suites. Specifically, Baker said the isolated quality the instrument uses to communicate each melody and harmony creates a sense of awe in the listener.
“Most of his (Bach’s) music is spiritual, but this is the first work he did that was secular in his themes,” Baker said. “There’s something both sublime in the spiritual sense and then also very romantic about it.”
One way Bach expressed his sublimity was by using counterpoint, or the interaction of several different melodies at once, Lysy said. Bach’s manipulation and engagement of all the individual countermelodies allows for a simple idea to be communicated in complex ways, Lysy added. The majestic quality for Lysy comes from the way uncomplicated melodies can build into an intricate finale.
The preparation for an unaccompanied solo suite such as Bach’s cello suites entails an isolated quality of reflection and understanding of the notes in Bach’s score, Lysy said. Since the cello suites collectively consist of 36 movements, Lysy said performing the suites requires concentration, memory and preparation to perform.
The concert’s spatial setting, Serra’s “Torqued Ellipse” is a steel sculpture depicting an ovaline enclosed space in which Serra attempts to experiment with mathematical perfection, said art curator and writer Fia Darroch. Aiming to distill his sculpture to the purest and most elemental form, Darroch said Serra wanted to push forward the idea of creating mathematical simplicity on such a large scale. For Darroch, Serra’s exhibit is interactive in that one can feel and observe the tangible effects of abstract mathematical concepts.
“The sculpture is about creating an awareness of the site by just being there and being an interruption to the flow of traffic outside,” Darroch said. “Because of that, you are immediately self-aware about your size in comparison to the size of the sculpture, about your flow of the gait of your walk and how you interact with something that interrupts your daily flow.”
For Darroch, one of the main concepts of “Torqued Ellipse” is interacting with sound, specifically the acoustics within and outside the sculpture. Darroch also said a psychological aspect of Serra’s sculpture is how its introspectiveness can generate more diverse uses than for what it was originally intended. In Lysy’s case, Darroch said not only is the audience interacting with the structure itself, but the structure’s relationship to the musical phrases or melodies they hear in the Bach cello suites.
Hoping this concert will inspire future endeavors, Lysy said he looks forward to more musicians being motivated to explore different places to play their music. For Lysy, music is not restricted to a practice room or a concert hall, but should be performed on all kinds of different and unusual performance platforms. By changing the perspective of classical music, Lysy said he hopes to persuade all music listeners of how the sounds of Bach can comment on the most mundane experiences. Similarly, Baker said the goal is for audiences to fully immerse themselves in the auditory sensation of the music performed in the space.
“Everybody’s going to have a different reaction to this, and there’s nothing like live music,” Baker said. “It has the most resonance with our own spiritual being, if you will, with our own emotional being. And I would want people to be able to go and whatever they experience is exactly what they should experience.”