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  • Helen Gramotnev

HELLISH CELLIST



Brisbane Music Festival 2023 continues to re-energise and inspire the Brisbane music audiences with its elegantly curated concerts, its combinations of fresh and familiar, and its chamber music feel and friendly atmosphere.


Have you ever heard Bach played backwards? Well, if you go to the Brisbane Music Festival, this is the kind of surprising experience you may encounter. You will find a refreshing mix of old and new, of the traditional and the unexpected, fresh interpretations of favourite classics along with never-before-heard, fresh-off-the-page music.


One of the concerts during this week’s marathon of exciting music, Hellish Cellist, is a rendition of J. S. Bach’s famous Cello Suite No.1 in G-major interpreted using Dante’s Inferno. Performed by cellist Daniel Shearer, this piece traces Dante’s journey to hell and back again, his encounters with beasts, and his escape from the fires of hell.


Shearer tackles this formidable Suite with grace and strength. It is no easy task to hold the audience’s attention unaccompanied for almost an hour, and this young cellist not only achieves this, but he keeps us entertained with lively commentary throughout the performance, ensuring the audience never feels lost in the music or in the performer’s interpretation. The cello sings, swings, dances, and breathes through Prelude, Allermande, Courante, Sarabande, Menuet, and Gigue, first seducing us with its rich, heavy, velvety voice, then to be challenged again in the second half of the performance with the experimental sounds of the five movements being played backwards!


“Now we are in hell” —this is where the journey back begins. In the world of tonic-based, classical music, the reversal of Bach’s most famous Suite questions our perception of the piece and, consequently, of the world around us. How much do we really hear? How much do we understand? Strings are plucked, hit with the bow, the sounds become chopped, even distorted at times. Fast passages mimic the fires of hell, confusion, and disarray…


Finally arriving at the Prelude is a ray of hope, light shining through the clouds, as we hear the familiar combinations of notes and legato passages that roll up and down in a symmetric fashion. Dante’s journey is coming to an end, and, like a good magician, Shearer creates the illusion, and then brings back to us reassuring reality – only this time, with a fresh perspective on Bach, on classical music, and on music performance possibilities.


With one more day of 2023 Brisbane Music Festival concerts on Sunday, 10 December, there are many opportunities to indulge in engaging music performances that leave you inspired and thinking.

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