Darrett Adkins, Hypersuite 2: Music for Solo Cello on Oberlin Music

oberlin-music-logoDarrett Adkins belongs to that rare breed of musicians who possess both the chops to do just about anything on their instruments, and the fierce intellect to create a solo concert experience that goes beyond the all too familiar format of “look what I can do.” His most recent album, “Hypersuite 2,” which seamlessly pairs J. S. Bach’s Suite No. 2 in D Minor with contemporary counterparts by Eliot Carter, Osvaldo Golijov, Arne Nordheim, Adriana Verdié, and Roger Sessions, approaches the form of a solo album from a fresh and thoughtful perspective.

Darrett Adkins

Darrett Adkins

The notion of the hypersuite springs from what Adkins calls a “historical anomaly” – from 1721, when Bach finished writing his six cello suites, until the 20th century, there is no record of any music written for solo cello. Although many of the great classical and romantic composers wrote for cello soloist with piano or ensemble, it was not considered a stand-alone instrument until years after Pablo Casals “discovered” the Bach suites (which for roughly 100 years prior had been relegated to the category of “studies,” if you can believe it). Casals introduced them into the standard canon through his many prodigious students, generating interest among contemporary composers about the possibilities of the cello as a solo instrument and spurring a boom in the repertoire.

Therein lies the programming difficulty of any modern cellist who is asked to play a solo recital program; there is nothing to bridge the temporal gap in the repertoire. “The trouble with playing Bach and new music ‘next to’ each other,” says Adkins, “was that the historic space between them seemed too wide and jarring, even though I knew that the music was, in spirit and even in construction, sharing the same values.  I felt that the audience would like one part or the other, but feel that they had heard two concerts, largely unrelated.”

The hypersuite emerged from this concern. Adkins’ idea was to pair one of the six Bach cello suites with contemporary works interspersed between movements, which he refers to as Bach’s “many varied and prodigious, sometimes quarrelsome offspring.” The result is an evening-length work that organizes this wide array of new music in the context of its ultimate predecessor. “I started experimenting with the notion of using the Bach Suites as a kind of “narrator” for an evening of contemporary cello music,” Adkins says. “The goal was to expand the suite into a single, larger experience, touching down in terms of tonality and style, while giving flight to the myriad of stylistic notions that the last century has produced for us solo cellists.”

darrett-adkins-hypersuite-2Perhaps the most striking thing about this album is the continuity between tracks, despite their temporal distance from one another. Adkins approaches them all with the same logical precision that is characteristic of his playing on a whole. Whereas some soloists seem to feel without thinking, it is always clear that Adkins is as interested in the formal and structural elements of the music he plays as he is with its emotional value. Although there is a 200-year gap between “movements” of the hypersuite, and even the contemporary pieces represent a wide range of styles, Adkins is able to draw parallels between them through their formal and emotional content. He purposefully pairs the Bach with pieces modeled on contemporary versions of the baroque forms, such as the tangos by Golijov and Verdié (paired with baroque dance movements), Carter’s Figment (which pairs nicely with the open ended-ness of the opening Bach movement, Prelude), and the Sessions “suite within a suite,” which includes its own prelude, as well as a number of other short forms that relate in some way or another to the Bach. The effect that his non-conventional ordering of tracks achieves is both to recontextualize the contemporary pieces, as well as shedding new light on the Bach through modern day responses. The relationships between tracks become obvious, emphasizing a lineage that might be harder to trace if presented “in order.”

With the increasing popularity and easy access to downloadable and streaming music online, it is ever more important for artists to demonstrate a specific reason for releasing a full album (rather than individual, downloadable tracks). This is an album that it pays to have in its entirety. On top of the thoughtful ordering of tracks, Adkins included detailed and enlightening liner notes that shed light on the intricacies of his decisions to include each piece, as well as his personal connections to them. This is more than a recording of a recital program; it is a true labor of love.

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