PUTNEY—Once a year, Yellow Barn dedicates an evening to its founders, David and Janet Wells, with a tribute concert and post-concert festivities.
However, this year is something special. Honoring David’s 85th birthday on July 16, Yellow Barn will be exploring Johann Sebastian Bach’s six Cello Suites during Friday and Saturday evening programs.
A renowned cellist, David Wells is best known for his mastery of the Bach Suites for unaccompanied cello.
“We consider these concerts a birthday present to David Wells,” said Catherine Stephan, Yellow Barn’s executive director. “He is very excited about it. And so are we.”
On Friday, July 13, at 8 p.m., the Founder’s Concert in the Big Barn will consist of works by Bach and Schubert.
During the first half of the program attendees will hear three of Bach’s cello concertos: Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007, with cellists Natasha Brofsky, Jay Campbell, Stella Cho, and Bonnie Hampton; Cello Suite No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1008, with cellists Fernando Arias, Hampton, and Sunny Yang; and Cello Suite No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1009, with cellists Brofsky, Jean-Michel Fonteneau, Michael Katz, and Ahrim Kim.
The second half of the program is devoted to a single work, Franz Schubert’s Piano Trio in E-flat Major, D. 929, with Donald Weilerstein on violin, Arias on cello and Peter Frankl on piano. After the concert, there with be refreshments on the patio.
The festivities continue on Saturday, July 14 with a second concert and a free pre-concert discussion. At the Putney Public Library at 7 p.m., cellists Brofsky, Fonteneau and Hampton — instructors at Yellow Barn this year — will discuss Exploring the Bach Cello Suites.
These musicians will explore Bach’s masterpieces and how each of these cellists approach them interpretively.
Immediately following the library discussion, the venue switches to the Big Barn where the remaining of Bach’s cello suites will be performed, along with works by Witold Lutoslawski, Felix Mendelssohn and Alexander Raskatov.
The first half of the program includes Bach’s Cello Suite No. 4 in E-flat Major, BWV 1010, with cellists Fonteneau, Kim and Gwen Krosnick; as well as Lutoslawski’s Paganini Variations for two pianos performed by Michelle Cann and Marina Radiushina; and Mendelssohn’s Viola Quintet in B-flat Major, Op.87, with violinists Grace Park and Ariel Mitnick, violist Kathy Murdock and Tegen Davidge and cellist Cho.
After intermission, Raskatov’s Let There Be Night will be sung by Susan Narucki, with the accompaniment of Hannah Choi on violin, Rose Hashimoto on viola and Fonteneau on cello. The final two Bach Cello suites will round out the evening: Cello Suite No. 5 in C Minor, BWV 1011, with cellists Brofsky, Cho, Katz, Christine Lamprea, and Yang; and Cello Suite No. 6 in D Major, BWV 1012, with cellists Arias, Brofsky, Campbell, Hampton, Krosnick, and Lamprea.
The Six Suites by Bach are actually written for solo unaccompanied cello. They are some of the most frequently performed and recognizable solo compositions ever written for cello.
The suites contain a great variety of technical devices, a wide emotional range, and some of Bach’s most compelling voice interactions and conversations. It is their intimacy, however, that has made the suites amongst Bach’s most popular works today.
The suites have been transcribed for numerous instruments, including the violin, viola, double bass, viola da gamba, mandolin, piano, marimba, classical guitar, recorder, electric bass, horn, saxophone, bass clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, euphonium, tuba, ukulele, and charango.
A new way to play
Although using the traditional cello, “we are doing the Bach Suites a little differently here at these concerts at Yellow Barn,” said Stephan. “Usually one person plays the suite alone. Here we are having several people doing them. The suites are made up of six short movements, and we will have each movement played by a different cellist. In other words, each suite will have multiple solo players. In that way, all the faculty and participants on cello at Yellow Barn will be able to perform in the Bach Suites at these two concerts.”
Although she now functions in an administrative role as executive director, Stephan herself is a former cellist and, in fact, studied cello at Yellow Barn in the mid-1990s with David Wells. She said she is personally very excited about this tribute concert to her former mentor.
Wells, winner of both the American Artists and Harold Bauer Awards, has performed in the United States and Europe as a recitalist, soloist with orchestras, and a member of the Manhattan Trio, Columbia Concert Trio, Hartt String Quartet, and Wells Duo. He has also been a professor of cello and chamber music at the Manhattan School of Music, the New England Conservatory, and the Hartt School of Music.
A native of East Chicago, Ind., Wells has made his home in Putney for more than four decades.
In 1969, Wells and his wife, Janet, founded Yellow Barn as an informal summer retreat for David’s students at the Manhattan School of Music. The Wells’ neighbors embraced this vibrant addition to their community, which was named by a participant for the color of the Wells’s farm house, cooking meals for the musicians and organizing concerts for the town.
Over the ensuing decades, Yellow Barn has evolved into one of the finest chamber music training and performance centers in the world, renowned for its unique philosophy and commitment to excellence, and Wells’ students have won top honors at many solo and chamber music competitions. Among his students are past and present members of the Chicago, Cleveland and Philadelphia Orchestras, the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonic and San Francisco Opera Orchestra.
“I love David. His heart is huge, and his enthusiasms for best music making have inspired individuals and communities alike. It’s not possible to adequately measure the gifts that he and Janet have given to this corner of Vermont,” said Zon Eastes, also a cellist, and former director of the Brattleboro Music Center and past conductor of the Windham Orchestra.
“Those of us who, moved by an artist’s music, often harbor hope that their art is a reflection of the human being, can look to David as a shining example that this can be so,” said Yellow Barn Artistic Director Seth Knopp.
Also available from Yellow Barn this summer is a special CD of a recital by David and Janet Wells from 1976. The Wells Duo in Recital includes works by Bach, Beethoven, and Barber. All proceeds benefit the annual David Wells Scholarship at Yellow Barn.