From the Desk Remix! – Bach and Creativity.

Earlier this evening I was watching an online concert (if the link becomes available I will post it!) focusing on J.S. Bach.

Johann Sebastian Bach has been one of my musical/creative heroes ever since I bought a cassette tape (you may have to search-engine that, depending on your age!) of his Concertos for Two Harpsichords. I purchased it because I had read that he was influenced by Antonio Vivaldi, another hero.

The concert involved a cello player, a violinist, and a composer.

The Violinist, Jonny Gandelsman, has recorded Bach’s solo cello suites on a five-string violin.

The concert was part music and part conversation about the differences which came to the music with the differing instruments and how Bach wrote the pieces.

It brought to mind the documentary of the ‘Addictive Sketcher’ Adebanji Alade attempting to recreate the painting of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, using the artist’s original techniques. At one point he had to decide whether to complete his version in its current state, with yellowed varnish, or choose the original paint colour which had been revealed in a studio version. In the end he chose to paint the figure of Lisa in her current colours but the background in the original colours.

Unsurprisingly, in these two examples, the creatives involved spoke about the learning which had occured as they moved through this process of working closely with works of Bach and Da Vinci. Both genuises have had an unrivalled impact across the creative spectrum, let alone in the field of their specific endeavours.

I think the ‘Pandemic Period’ has provided an uncommon time creatively. Individual endeavours and collaborations, in ways which would not have happened previously, have caused us to push at the boundaries of our art. There has been a space and a mindset to look again at our preconceived notions and experiment and learn again.

Being innovative isn’t necessarily about creating ‘new’ but can be taking the old and applying it to the new we already have.

What happens if you paint a Hopper image in the style of Van Gogh, or even Mondrian?

The classical music world is well ahead of other creative fields in arranging contemporary music into a ‘classical’ style, and a number of Rock musicians have played the works of Bach, Paganini, Vivaldi, for years.

In your area of creativity, which old masters can you revisit, or which ways can you reinterpret the new or the old?

The Music of Strangers.

This is actually the fifth attempt at writing the first line of this post about what world-famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma did next in the year my youngest son was born. He formed a world-wide ensemble called Silkroad, which:

creates music that engages difference, sparking radical cultural collaboration and passion-driven learning to build a more hopeful world.

The ensemble represents musicians and cultures from across the globe.

Even though Yo-Yo Ma’s version of J.S. Bach’s Cello Sonatas is one of my favourites, I confess I had not come across the Silkroad Ensemble, until I watched a documentary about it called, The Music of Strangers.


The stories of the principal musicians – their lives and their musicianship – and how this became the language they predominantly communicated in, is awe-inspiring. If you are a musician you immediately want to be a better one, and if you aren’t, might I suggest the Galician bag-pipes?

All the way through the documentary, and then the subsequent music-streaming service, listening to the recordings, I realised two things. First, I wanted to be in a writer’s version of the ensemble, and second, my knowledge of literature from other parts of the world is woefully inadequate.

This realisation led me to two further considerations. First, I needed to start reading more literature from other cultures, and second, I may need to become a bit more well-known (like Yo-Yo Ma) before I could be beckoned, or indeed do the beckoning, towards a similar writers’ ensemble.

If you bet me to the latter, then don’t forget I suggested it!