My Town Monday: Bach to Bach

It’s no secret that I am a fan of Zuill Bailey. Last night I had the opportunity to hear him and observe him playing his cello yet again at a pre-festival winter concert. The venue was at a winery and tasting room located in an historic building in downtown Spokane. Thick wooden columns rose from the wood floor to wood ceiling, candlelight flickered on exposed brick walls that were hung with a variety of artwork. But most importantly, there on a small stage was one of the premiere cellists in the world, along with a concert pianist, playing 3 concertos I might not have heard if I hadn’t been there that evening.

I have blogged about him before here and here. I heard and saw him perform in 2 different yet small, intimate venues last December, on back-to-back evenings (hence the title of this post which I had started 12 months ago after that experience) then was sadly side-tracked by the busy-ness of Christmas at work and home.  I couldn’t pass up the chance to see him perform for a fifth time and my husband surprised me by agreeing to come along.

We almost missed the beginning of the concert. It was my fault: I thought I knew where the winery was located, but I had us on the wrong side of the river near the site of the former railroad yard.  The old rail yards were turned into Riverfront Park and the site of Expo ’74. While there is a nice venue in the lower level of the Flour Mill (now shops and restaurants), that was not where we needed to be. It turns out that Railroad Avenue is next to the raised railway that runs through downtown. (You’d think I’d know that after living here for 4 years!) I was stressed nearly to the point of tears as we rushed to the correct address, parked, and walked hurriedly to the building, a full 5 minutes late. We barely made it to our seats before the concert began. I sat perfectly still, upright, with my hands on my knees, and peeked between heads and shoulders to see. It was serendipitous that the first concerto was intense and difficult to play in the designated key: it matched my mood exactly.

When Zuill Bailey plays, you can hear the layers of music and emotion build throughout the piece. His cello sings, weeps, exalts, triumphs, whispers, sighs, and dances. When you see him perform, you experience it even more so — layer upon layer, ever changing. His facial expressions, his entire body language, becomes part of the musical experience. This is, perhaps, due to how he internalizes the music when he memorizes each piece. Yes, he played all 3 concertos last night from memory.  And yet despite having such focus in his playing, there were times when there was a few measures of rest and he listened to the piano accompaniment only to hear the building rumble from a train going by… and he would look up to the vibrating wooden ceiling and smile.

By the final concerto, I was spending half my time watching my husband watch the cellist. SuperDad was clearly enjoying the experience and amazed at Zuill’s mastery. I think it’s safe to say there is another Zuill Bailey fan in the house.

Luckily, we will continue to have opportunities to hear Zuill Bailey play his cello: he is the artistic director of the Northwest Bach Festival and has expanded the festival to include opportunities to hear great music in a variety of settings everywhere he goes: schools, prisons, places that serve lunch to the underprivileged, along with smaller venues like the one I had tickets to last night.  He enjoys educating people about music and sharing his love of it everywhere he goes. If you ever get the chance to see him perform, especially if you at all enjoy classical music and the sounds of the cello, I highly encourage you to go!

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