When I was in Prague last year covering the Dvorak Festival, I heard Pavel Šporcl give a brilliant performance of the first Martinu Violin Concerto; it was with the Prague Symphony Orchestra conducted by Pietari Inkinen on a Smetana Hall concert that included the Czech premiere of Esa-Pekka Salonen's LA Variations. I have known and admired Pavel for several years, both through his recordings and several live opportunities. We had lunch the next day and he told me about his recent Bach adventures, both live and on recordings. On Dec 6 I received an email from Pavel.
Dear Laurence. Hope you are well. I finished my first series of Bach marathon concerts in Prague where on three consecutive days I played Bach's complete violin works. It was very hard work. I was very tired. Today I start one more in Brno. I also would like you to know that I will have my Carnegie Hall debut on Feb 13 with the Mendelssohn Concerto and the New England Symphonic Ensemble. On Sunday Feb 14 I will play in a benefactors' concert for iPalpiti at the home of Susan and Charles Avery Fisher.
I heard from Pavel again two days ago.
Dear Laurence. Hope you are well. In two days I am flying to NY for my Carnegie Hall debut. I am very happy about my Bach Marathon tour and the 2 CDs of all the Bach solo music which I recorded in 2015 for Supraphon in the Church of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren in Prague. I became especially proud of it when I found out that the last Czech violinist to record this music was Josef Suk, 45 years ago!!! So far it has sold more than six thousand copies in Czech Republic which is incredible.
I had asked Pavel in Prague if he would write about his Bach marathon for Strings readers; here is his report.
Day 1: The Concertos
The concertos for violin and orchestra, a very nice and successful concert. I played all four Concertos: E major, A minor, the Double Violin and Double with Oboe. My partners were the original instrument orchestra Czech Ensemble Baroque, their leader Elen Machova and oboist Vilem Veverka. I have played with them many times and always used Baroque tuning even though I have perfect pitch so it was very difficult to play. This time, I changed; for the first time with this orchestra I did not use Baroque tuning. It would be killer for me with the next day, of course, playing Sonatas and Partitas and then Sonatas with harpsichord. Elen played on her Baroque violin and we were very trying to match each other's sound. With Vilem it was much easier. We all really enjoyed our time. And the audience as well.
Day 2: The Solo Sonatas and Partitas
The Sonatas and Partitas for violin solo. A dream came true in this concert, to play Bach's masterpieces complete for the first time. I was not nervous but still, anything can happen at any time, so one has to concentrate like never before. Especially when you play it from memory. I divided the concert in two –Sonata 1, Partita 1, Sonata 2 on the first half; Partita 2, Sonata 3, Partita 3 on the second. Many violinists break a complete Bach Sonatas and Partitas concert into three parts, pairing a Sonata and Partita on each. Doing it my way means the Chaconne in D minor and the very difficult Sonata No. 3 with its 13-minute long Fuga are on the same half of the concert. The Sonata No. 3 is a musical masterpiece and a memory torture test at the same time. Compared to it, the E major Partita is just a piece of cake, so to say, though beautiful. I was very happy to finish this concert – it lasted almost three hours.
Day 3 The Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord
The Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord with Mahan Esfahani. Fortunately Mahan had just moved to Prague so we had additional time to rehearse. It would have been impossible to put all six Sonatas together in the normal rehearsal time I had between my other marathon concerts. For both of us it was the first time we played the Six complete in one concert. These Sonatas are incredibly intimate. I had to use a totally different playing technique because with harpsichord one cannot play with a big sound. We used a copy of Bach’s own harpsichord from 1719 on which he probably composed these works. Each Sonata is very different. Some movements are so complex than if you lose your concentration for one second it can be a big disaster. We both enjoyed playing together very much. When it was all over, Pavel wrote, I was incredibly happy and satisfied to finish this Bach Marathon. As difficult as it was to play Bach's complete works for violin on three consecutive days, it was much more difficult to prepare for all the concerts – together they lasted more then seven hours. I don’t know of anybody who would do such a crazy thing. And two days later I would do it all over again in Brno.