From Parisian cellist Valérie Aimard, the creator of Only Cello, we have a fresh new recording of the Bach suites for unaccompanied cello. Read on for our exclusive interview with Aimard.
Based in Paris, Valérie Aimard has been traveling with her cello for decades, playing concerts in more than 30 countries, enjoying chamber music, and teaching. She has been teaching kids through pre-professional students for about 25 years at the Conservatoire Maurice Ravel and chamber music and pedagogy at the Paris Conservatoire.
Aimard is highly active in her spare time. She is a mime – and teaches mime. She is also an avid tennis fan and played competitively through age 20.
Following her innovative and monumental YouTube recording project, Only Cello, earlier this month, Aimard released her latest album – a two-CD album of the complete Bach suites.
Aimard kindly took time out of her busy schedule to speak with us about her new album and donated a copy of her CD for a giveaway we’ll hold on 22 November. Please fill in the entry form at the end of this interview for a chance to win a copy of the album and a Cello Museum Bach T-shirt!
The following interview transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Recording the Bach Suites
Cello Museum (CM)
Last time we spoke, you had just completed Only Cello, a monumental multi-hour project on YouTube combining audio, video, and text in the comments. You mentioned this new Bach project at our last interview as being in the works. Congratulations on completing this new album, released on 6 October. Please tell us about it.
Valérie Aimard (VA)
Yes, as you said, I created this YouTube channel, Only Cello, with about six hours of solo cello music. It’s a history of unaccompanied cello music from the Baroque era to pieces written for me very recently. It was a huge project, recording videos from Gabrieli and anonymous Baroque pieces to a lot of 20th-century works like Kodály and Lutosławski. It was a massive undertaking over two years. Finally, I succeeded and crossed the finish line.
When I finished that, I thought, well, it’s really time to do the Bach project now because I was in good shape with the cello. And, having just turned 50, I felt if I didn’t do it now, I might never do it. So, I decided to create an actual CD for the sound quality and to have a physical object. It took me two years, one for recording and the other for editing, writing the text, and designing the booklet.
So, yes, I’m done. I might pause for a moment and then move on to my next big project, but this is a monumental project.
Cello Decisions When Recording the Bach
You have a gorgeous cello – we spoke of it last time. As I’ve not yet heard your album, I’d like to know whether you did the scordatura in the fifth suite and if you played the 6th suite with a 5-string cello, as indicated in the score. Did you make any changes to your usual cello setup in terms of the cello, the bow, the strings, or your bow hold for the recording?
Well, this was a significant artistic choice because, at the moment, many musicians are exploring the Baroque style and approaches with gut strings and different bows. As you mentioned, I’ve played on an Italian cello from the late 17th century for the last ten years and a wonderful bow by Henry from the mid-19th century for the last 20 years. I love both, and every day, I practice, trying to find my own sound and truth with my instrument and bow.
Recording the Bach suites, it was impossible for me to consider using another instrument or bow. I mention this in the booklet; it was a big artistic choice not to tune the cello to the G string for the fifth suite and not to use a cello with five strings for the sixth suite. I kept the same bow and cello, making it a challenge and a significant choice from the beginning.
These are questions we all have to ask ourselves. Few people have the luxury of having a second cello with the A string tuned down to the G for the 5th suite and a third cello with an additional fifth string for the 6th suite.
Especially in a live performance, not necessarily a recording project, one wants to avoid having to tune down and then tune it back up. At least I do. And the sixth suite feels so much better on a 5-string instrument.
Well, it’s true that five years ago, I did one season playing all of the Bach suites in concert. It’s so disturbing to have to tune the cello again for the complete suites; you never know what will happen with the tuning. It was also one of the reasons I learned the fifth suite again with the standard tuning. I prepared in advance for this back-and-forth between the two.
You have a striking photo on the cover of your album. Please tell us about that.
I have a friend, an American photographer living in Paris, who took the photo. We had a wonderful time making these pictures. He specializes in capturing movement in photographs, and as a mime, I love movement.
We tried to combine our creativity for this picture. It’s a beautiful movement with an orange light, almost like a modern painting. I love the cover.
Please tell us about your upcoming projects.
Well, it seems that the reaction of people shows a connection between the music, the text I wrote, and the images. I put all my heart into this for the last two years, and it’s rewarding to have this feedback.
Last time we talked, you encouraged me to write. So, I wrote the text for this Bach booklet, sharing my unique insights. I’m also writing a method for teaching from grade five to eight, not for beginners but for intermediate level. I did these two projects last year.
I can’t wait to read your book. In Only Cello, you wrote about a mix of technical and historical information. In your method, are you including the history along with the technique, or is this volume more focused on playing?
It’s just about playing. There are excerpts from Marais from the 16th century through mid-20th-century works. I couldn’t go beyond 1950 due to copyright issues. It spans 300 years, but my new book is very visual, with logical technical instructions and short excerpts of pieces, some well-known and some unknown.
It’s suited for grades five to eight, concentrating on technical aspects without being too lengthy. It’s more about repertoire – a broad range including quite unknown pieces from various teachers. I think it will be out in the beginning of 2025, a little more than a year from now, as I’m finishing up, and then the editing process takes quite a while.
How to Follow and Support Valérie Aimard
- ONLY CELLO
- Get her new Bach album
- Cello Museum Interview of Valérie Aimard
Enter for a Chance to Win a Copy of the Album & a T-Shirt
Enter for a chance to win a copy of Valérie Aimard’s new 2-CD album of the complete Bach cello suites and an original Cello Museum Bach Suite Life T-shirt. We will hold the random prize drawing on 22 November. Only one entry per person, please. Good luck!
Our Giveaway is now closed for entries. We will announce our winner soon!
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