The live concert from Leipzig’s Market Square was part of “24 Hours Bach”, a 24-hour TV/multimedia event on 28 July 2000, the 250th anniversary of J. S. Bach’s death. We first watched the DVD at my parents’ in 2003. It was love at first sight, or rather, sound. The DVD was a pirate and it broke up many times and almost spoiled the music. So I bought one here and made a much better copy for my mom. The DVD, and the CD I burned with the best pieces, have been our favorites. The CD sounds especially great in a car.

Why do I love it? It’s the quintessence of music–not classical music that Bach epitomizes, or jazz that Jacques Loussier Trio (and other bands) represents, or fusion/crossover, or the whatever-you-call-it sound that Bobby McFerrin produces, it’s pure music, which is nothing but pure expression of human emotions.

The few orchestral pieces played to their original scores are obviously the least interesting ones, especially the double violin concerto in D minor played lifelessly by Gil Shaham/Adele Anthony couple, with which I’m very familiar since I played its piano part in Tsinghua several times.

Then there’s the appropriately named Quintessence Saxophone Quintet, a German band who performed two funky pieces. Five saxophones sound really loud together!

The German Brass played a few adapted pieces. Though still in classical forms, the sound and virtuosity are truly amazing, especially the lead trumpter.

Much more interesting are the pieces by the American Turtle Island String Quartet. A potpourri of most musical styles you can imagine, the sound is provokingly intriguing.

And then there’s the Jacques Loussier Trio, who’s been jazzifying classical music for more than 40 years. I bought their first Bachazz CD released in 1959 and a later one adapting Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and they sound very tame and timid compared to the way they played here. I like their jazz more than most other jazz styles, because I can follow the melody and harmony and rhythm much more easily, and Bach’s mathematical forms and counterpoints turn out to be perfect for improvisation because of their simple underlying structure.

What can I say about Bobby McFerrin? I bought two of his CDs later but they lack so much the intensity and variety and playfulness he does here. If an evil alien wants to collect some human specimen to analyze what a human can do (without any tool), it would definitely want to find McFerrin for the vocal part of the collection.

Finally the highlight of the DVD is Deconstructing Johann by the King’s Singers. I wrote about a concert I went to back in 1998. I posted a question for the lyrics in the forum on their website, and someone replied:

J. S. Bach had a little problem.
J. S. Bach was in a fix.
J.S. Bach couldn’t find an answer.
What to do?

“I’ve written most of a rather fabulous work. Toccata… it’s in d minor… but now I’m feeling a bit of a jerk.
I can’t think of what should come after it.”

Now said his wife, who was resting up after her thirty third child….

“Johann my dear, you should just go to bed. Something always comes up.”

“Don’t be a twit. It’s a real crisis and I’m working to a deadline.
What can I fit? What’d fit after that great Toccata?
Maybe it needs to be something faster?
I haven’t got a clue, and in a week the piece is due.
I’m in a panic and I’m stuck like glue.”

“Don’t get your knickers in a twist Johann. ‘Notes are only notes’ you always said.
There’s only twelve so use your head.
How many arrangements of twelve notes can there possibly be?”

That’s a problem I don’t want to deal with.
How many permutations of C and D and E and F and G is a thing that I’ve never heard of.
You can leave that to Arnold Schoenberg.
He is the person to do that twelve-tone thing.
NO!
It isn’t the answer… I haven’t the foggiest… What am I gonna do?
I’m all in a panic… Aaah! NO! What can I do?
I’ve finished my Toccata but I have no fugue.

(Cell phone ringing: 65646362…)

Aaah…. And now I’ve got a fugue!


UPDATE: J and some friends went to a Bobby McFerrin concert in NJPAC while I was in China. She said it’s less interesting than what he did here, and he also tried the Bach-Gounod Ave Maria gig to a much lesser effect since the audience can’t compare with the Leipzig crowd. How beautifully the whole square sang as one, and more amazingly expanding to at least 3 parts at the end!

Bach surely would have been proud of his second home town people, but the town is in really bad shape when we visited it in winter 2004. It’s the worst day of our trip to Germany and Austria, rainy and windy and cold in a dilapidated town. We stood at the Market Square and there’s no music to be heard, even though the Bach Museum is just around the corner.

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