Hypersuite 2: Music for Solo Cello

CD Cover


Recorded on January 23-25, 2006, at Edison Music, New York, NY Recording Producers: David Baron and Darrett Adkins
Recording Engineer: Henry Hirsch
Assistant Engineer and Editor: Albert DiFiore

Mastering Engineer: Paul Eachus

Darrett Adkins performs on a cello by Johannes Tononi, 1681, Bologna, Italy.

Special thanks to David Baron of Edison Music for creating the space for this project. To David Stull, Erica Brenner, Paul Eachus, and Oberlin Music for all of your support and hard work for seeing this project through. Thanks to Derek Mithaug, of Mithaug Artists for the first push. Most of all, thanks to Ingrid for everything.



All of the works on this recording are licensed and reproduced with the permission of the composers and publishers.

Photography: Tanya Rosen-Jones

Graphic Design: Anilda Carrasquillo, Cover to Cover Design, LLC, covertocoverdesign.com

Project Manager: Erica Brenner, Erica Brenner Productions, LLC, ericabrennerproductions.com

℗2013 Darrett Adkins

©2013 Oberlin Conservatory of Music, 77 W. College St., Oberlin, OH 44074.

All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized duplication is a violation of applicable laws.

ELLIOTT CARTER (1908-2012)
Figment I [6:06]
Length: 3:41
Omaramor [8:21]
Length: 3:22
ARNE NORDHEIM (1931-2012)
Clamavi [9:48]
Length: 1:58
Jira (Yira) che (‘k) Tango [4:14]
Length: 4:43
Minuets I & II
ROGER SESSIONS (1896-1985) Six Pieces for Violoncello
I. Prelude [1:34]
II. Dialogue [1:40]
III. Scherzo [1:44]
IV. Berceuse [2:41]
V. Fantasy [1:36]
VI. Epilogue [3:11]
Length: 3:11
Length: 2:30

Total playing time: 60:29

The notion of the hypersuite owes its genesis to an historical anomaly.

Between 1721 and the early 20th century, no important concert pieces were written for a solo cellist. No Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, nor Brahms. No Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Chopin, Liszt, Wagner, Verdi, Dvořák, Grieg, Schumann, Tchaikovsky, nor Saint-Saëns. And then there were the great composers at the beginning of the 20th century who continued to overlook the medium, even while often contributing important concerted works and sonatas with piano or other instruments. These composers included Debussy, Ravel, Fauré, Ives, Webern, Schoenberg, Berg, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and well, you get the idea.

However, the solo cellist has the astonishing six Bach Suites from 1721, and, once the 20th century got under way, the solo sonatas of Kodály and Reger showed the rest of the music world how large-scale musical statements could be written for solo cello. Many composers of the nearly two centuries separating Bach and Reger wrote for solo cello, but those composers were cellists themselves, and the works they created were etudes (Popper, Lee, Dotzauer, Duport), concert studies (Cossman), Caprices (Piatti), and other short works written for themselves and other cellists to study, advance their technique, or show off their personal virtuoso style. Sadly, there lacked the passion and genius of a Chopin, Lizst, or even Paganini in the world of virtuoso cellist-composers, and so the solo cello music of the 19th century remains firmly (and mostly thankfully) stuck in the practice room and conservatory audition halls. The ubiquity of the piano in the 19th century seems to have resulted in the opinion that all cello music meant to be heard by audiences would be accompanied, and there are some charming salon works by these cellist-composers that occasionally appear on professional recitals.

Pablo Casals, it is said, discovered a copy of the Bach Cello Suites in a local music store as a young man. These works had languished in the category of “studies” for most of the previous 100 years, and were not known to audiences. Casals more or less single-handedly brought the Suites

to the music world’s attention, and no cellist has been the same since. We cellists start practicing and performing the Bach Suites as soon as our teachers think we are able and continue both practicing and performing them until after we have stopped playing everything else.

At the same time, Casals was not a champion of stylistically modern music (even though some of his students were), and it wasn’t until later cellists such as Rostropovich, Palm, and Krosnick came along that it became normal to write solo cello music. A tremendous outpouring of solo cello music by virtually every important composer of the second half of the 20th century gave cellists a repertoire so vast and interesting, so varied and representative, that anyone could spend the greater part of a career playing only music for solo cello written since about 1950.

However, given the stylistic mayhem of music over the last 50 years or so, the notion of a representative solo recital is ridiculous. We pick our favorites from an incredible variety of musical styles — from near pop and freely improvised music, folk, and minimalism, to the highly complex languages of serialism, spectralism, and ultimately maximalism. In fact, each composer creates a personal language, often incorporating a virtual grab bag of every style that they have encountered and embraced as a contemporary listener.

Of course one can (and one does!) present a contemporary solo cello recital consisting of personal choices over a broad spectrum of styles and nationalities, but the resulting program struggles to have a sense of narrative, or an organized point of view. And if you want to play Bach, well then the historical disconnect is bordering on the absurd! Except for the fact that, overwhelmingly, when a composer sets out (as one inevitably does these days) to write a solo cello piece, they look to Bach for ideas, inspiration, and even technical advice.

Thus, the concept of the hypersuite. These programs (six in all, as there are six suites) recognize the god-like influence of the Bach Cello Suites over all subsequent solo cello music and take advantage of the great number of powerful, important, and emotionally resonant works of recent composers by incorporating them directly into the Bach Suite. Bach becomes the narrator, if you will, describing and organizing his many varied and prodigious, sometimes quarrelsome offspring. Bach has the first and last word, but the journey through the suite has many tales to tell, each unique and powerful, and each personally meaningful. The recital thus takes on the key of the suite chosen, which has some peril, but also some opportunities. The Bach movements separate the contemporary statements from each other, giving new meaning and drawing new connections between the new works, and the individual Bach movements, as well.

This program, created around the Suite No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1008, embarks on a dramatic, often improvisatory journey that draws deeply on the soulful, vocal, human qualities that only the solo cello possesses. The newer works share the soul of the Bach, but reach for their own brilliance, romanticism, passion, and movement.

– Darrett Adkins

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH (1685-1750) Suite No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1008: 1. Prelude

Bach devoted himself almost exclusively to instrumental music during his employment at the court of Anhalt-Cöthen between 1717 and 1723, a fruitful period that saw the completion of the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier, the keyboard inventions, the English and French keyboard suites, the four orchestral suites, the six Brandenburg Concertos, and the three sonatas for cello and keyboard. Among these were two monumental sets of solo works — six each for violin and cello alone.

Cöthen boasted two fine string virtuosos — violinist and gambist Christian Ferdinand Abel and cellist Christian Bernard Linnike — either of whom may have been the intended recipient of Bach’s unaccompanied suites, though the lower-pitched suites may actually have been intended for the violoncello da spalia (held “on the shoulder”).

Though the six cello suites remained in circulation as studies, they came to the attention of the wider music world only after Pablo Casals found a copy of the score in a second-hand shop in Barcelona at the age of 13. He began studying them and playing them in public, and finally recorded all six suites in 1925 when he was 48.

The starkness of Bach’s writing for a single instrument alone seems to have proved uncomfortable for several composers. Robert Schumann wrote piano accompaniments for the cello suites, and Leopold Godowsky elaborated three of them into full contrapuntal versions for piano in 1923.

Each cello suite follows the same order: a Prelude succeeded by a series of dance movements — Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Minuets (or Bourées or Gavottes), and Gigue — although by Bach’s time, except for the minuet, most of these forms were no longer being danced. Two of the six, including BWV 1008, are in minor keys.

The Prelude that begins the second suite sounds like an improvisation, reflecting the old tradition that preludes to suites were not written out but were used by the player to explore the important harmonies that the dances used — and to make sure the instrument was resonating properly in the key. Some cellists have discovered elements of a sarabande under the surface of this particular prelude, but Bach found plenty of opportunities to freely compose in this opening movement. After exploring the melodic possibilities inherent in outlining its chord progressions, Bach ends it with a brief cadenza and five resonant chords.

Elliott Carter (1908-2012), Figment I (1994)

Elliott Carter, who died recently at the age of 103, was originally inspired by American maverick Charles Ives but also studied with Gustav Holst, Walter Piston, and Nadia Boulanger (who told him to write music “where every note counts” — NPR interview with Gail Wein, December 11, 2011). His style changed radically during his long career, ending with music noted for its complicated intricacy.

Carter’s five Figments are short works — two to five minutes in length — for solo instruments (Nos. 1 & 2 for cello, No. 3 for contrabass, No. 4 for viola, and No. 5 for marimba), all written between 1994 and 2009. No. 1 was composed for Thomas Demenga, who asked Carter at his 85th-birthday concert in Basel for a solo piece to play at a concert in New York sponsored by the Naumburg Foundation. In Carter’s words, Figment “presents a variety of contrasting, dramatic moments, using material derived from one musical idea.”

Carter’s genius is apparent in his ability to take his highly contrapuntal language and the interrupted conversations of many musical characters and make them work on a single instrument.

J. S. Bach, Suite No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1008: II. Allemande

The Allemande, as the name implies, was a German Renaissance dance of a rather serious nature. Bach’s Weimar colleague J.G. Walther noted that it “must be composed and likewise danced in a grave and ceremonious manner.” Bach’s version in the second Suite is rather brooding in nature, though the music momentarily takes a wild turn at the end of the first half. An interesting feature of all the allemandes in Bach’s cello suites is their frequent tendency to arrive at cadence points on the third beat of a bar.

Osvaldo Golijov (b. 1960), Omaramor (1991)

Argentine-born Osvaldo Golijov, who now lives in Massachusetts, is one of the most original of living composers, combining music of his Romanian-Jewish heritage with Jewish liturgical music, Klezmer, and the New Tango of Astor Piazzolla.

Omaramor, composed in 1991, was commissioned by the Omar del Carlo Tanglewood Fellowship; its name combines “Omar” with “amor,” the Spanish word for love.

In Golijov’s own words: Carlos Gardel, the mythical tango singer, was young, handsome, and at the pinnacle of his popularity when the plane that was carrying him to a concert crashed and he died, in 1935. But for all the people who are seated today at the sidewalks in Buenos Aires and listening to Gardel’s songs in their radios, that accident is irrelevant, because, they will tell you, ‘Today Gardel is singing better than yesterday, and tomorrow he’ll sing better than today.’

Golijov continues: In one of his perennial hits, ‘My Beloved Buenos Aires,’ Gardel sings: ‘The day I’ll see you again/My beloved Buenos Aires/Oblivion will end/There will be no more pain.’ Omaramor is a fantasy on ‘My Beloved Buenos Aires’: the cello walks, melancholy at times and rough at others, over the harmonic progression of the song, as if the chords were the streets of the city. In the midst of this wandering the melody of the immortal song is unveiled.

Formally, Omaramor is a condensed dance suite with a slow introduction followed by two tangos — one is repeated — ending with an epilogue. The player is required to tune the lowest string down a half step. Its emotions, like Argentine tango, range from sad to wild.

J. S. Bach, Suite No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1008: III. Courante

Bach names movements in his keyboard partitas as courante if they are written in the French style, and corrente if in the Italian style. All such movements in the cello suites use the French form of the word. Courante means running, and this triple-metered dance form in the Bach suites is usually very lively, though it derives from one of the slowest of French court dances. In Suite No. 2, the movement is a succession of rapid 16th notes with only a few brief moments of arrival at a harmonic destination.

Arne Nordheim (1931-2010), Clamavi (1980)

Norwegian composer Arne Nordheim was so well regarded by his country that he was invited to live in a state residence next to the Royal Palace in Olso beginning in 1982. He received Norway’s highest cultural honor, the Anders Jahre Prize, in 1997, and was given a state funeral when he died at the age of 78.

Clamavi — a cry and a lament for solo cello — is one of a trio of cello pieces that includes the cello concerto Tenebrae, and Wirklicher Wald, a piece for soprano, cello solo, choir, and orchestra, all composed in the early 1980s. Clamavi is based on words from Psalm 141, “Lord, I cry unto thee, make haste unto me! Give ear unto my voice when I cry unto thee.” The piece begins with an expressive recitative. As stated in the score, “the chanting element is very essential. The cello should sing as if the instrument is human.” Later, a large part of the work calls for the cellist to play as if improvising, but to follow the written notes.

J. S. Bach, Suite No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1008: IV. Sarabande

The Sarabande is a dance in triple meter, which may have originated in the Spanish colonies of Central America. It had certainly become established in Spain by 1583, the year it was banned for obscenity and when references to the zarabanda had begun appearing in literature. What was originally a fast, erotic dance in the New World became a slow and solemn one by the time it reached the French court and was incorporated into the Baroque dance suite. Bach’s Sarabande in the second Suite creates its own brooding harmony when the cellist plays on more than one string at once (double stops).

Adriana Verdie ́ (b.1958), Jira (Yira) che (’k) Tango (1995)

Like Golijov, Adriana Verdié is an Argentine now living in the United States. A graduate of the University of Cuyo in Argentina, she earned her doctorate in composition from the University of California at Berkeley and now teaches at California State University at Long Beach.

The composer notes that Jira is “a short piece intended as an encore, or to close a more traditional cello recital. An excellent Czech cellist, Jiří Bárta, was visiting Los Angeles in 1995 and performing on our campus. He told me he was touring Argentina and other Latin-American countries for a series of recitals, so I wrote this theatrical-tango-mocking piece for him.

“The piece is full of energy and contrasting moods, always exaggerated, mocking the affectations of traditional tango singers. The name itself is an onomatopoeic puzzle made of the cellist’s name ‘Jiří’ transformed to sound like the slang word ‘yira.’ ‘Yira, yira’ is a traditional and indeed a very popular tango, from Gardel and Lepera in 1926, and our Argentinean word ‘che’ (meaning ‘you’ or more closely, ‘dude’) — plus the (’k) to make it sound like the word ‘Czech.’”

The cello piece, almost a mini-dance suite in itself, uses many of the string techniques associated with tango — whistles, slides, snap pizzicatos, long glissandos, tapping on the body of the instrument — along with extended techniques used in contemporary cello writing.

J. S. Bach, Suite No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1008: V. Minuets I & II

Minuets are probably the best known court dance of all, figuring as the third movement in most symphonies of the classical period and the well-appointed Baroque suite usually had two of them. Their cheerfulness forms a nice contrast to the solemn Sarabande that precedes them, and in the second suite, the second minuet, restrained and elegant, ventures into D Major for an extra change up before repeating the music of the first minuet, which has a courtly, old-fashioned quality to it. In Bach’s third and fourth cello suites, the minuets are replaced by paired bourées, and by gavottes in the fifth and sixth.

Roger Sessions (1896-1985), Six Pieces for Violoncello (1966)

All of Roger Sessions’ works were “born difficult,” according to a friend of the composer, although the first modern composer on this recording, Elliott Carter, praised them for their “opulence of sound and imagination.” Sessions, a longtime faculty member at Princeton, wrote his Six Pieces for his son John, who later joined the faculty at Smith College. Describing the work in a press release for his solo concert at Juilliard, cellist Joel Krosnik wrote, “The movements are titled and self explanatory. The Dialogue is said to mirror a friendly conversation between father and son. The Scherzo is a classical A-B-A scherzo. Mr. Sessions had his granddaughter in mind for the Berceuse. The Fantasy uses materials from all the other movements, and the Epilogue is afterwards — after life is over — a poignant, elegiac description of ‘the end.’”

J. S. Bach, Suite No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1008: VI. Gigue

The English probably invented the dance called the jig which became the “gigue” when it was imported into the French court and beyond. Most gigues (and there are exceptions even in Bach) are cast in a triple (3/8) or compound rhythm (6/8, 9/8, 12/8) that gives these movements a joyful springiness. The valedictory Gigue in the second suite is in 3/8 with two moments when low strings play a drone against the melody above, underlining the folksy quality of the dance.

— Mike Telin, ClevelandClassical.com


Cellist Darrett Adkins is one of the foremost cellists of his generation, making important statements as a soloist, chamber musician, recording artist, and teacher. His critically acclaimed performances of contemporary music have inspired critics to call him “stunning,” “intensely involving,” “heroic,” and “fiery.” His appetite to bridge the world between the established tradition and the avant- garde enables him to explore repertoire in almost every genre, from the classical canon to the contemporary frontier.

Adkins’ New York debut of Samuel Barber’s Concerto at Alice Tully Hall in 1999, with Per Brevig conducting the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, prompted Strings magazine to call him “an adventurous champion of contemporary music.” His Aspen Music Festival debut was made with just three days notice when he performed Pierre Boulez’s Messagesquisse with James Conlon conducting. In the summer of 2002, Adkins was the Cellist of Honor at the Rio de Janeiro International Cello Encounter, where he gave master classes, recitals, and concerto performances. King Harald of Norway attended his Oslo debut, and he maintains a special relationship with Norwegian music and musicians. His many performances of Norwegian works and with Norwegian musicians earned him a Cultural Arts Grant from the American Scandinavian Society in 2004. Other solo appearances include standard concertos with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Tokyo Philharmonic, Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, Aspen Chamber Symphony, Suwon Philharmonic, Tochio Soloisten, Seoul’s Prime Orchestra, Cleveland’s Red {an orchestra}, and the North Carolina and New Hampshire symphony orchestras.

Adkins has premiered many important works for cello. In 2011 he gave the first New York performance of Arne Nordheim’s concerto, Tenebrae, in Alice Tully Hall, and in 2007 the first American performance of Rolf Wallin’s concerto, Grund, at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall. He gave the American premiere of Donatoni’s cello concerto at Tanglewood, where he also performed Birtwhistle’s Meridian. He has given the world premiere of concertos by Philip Cashian and Andrew Mead with the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble, and Jeffrey Mumford’s cello concerto with the Cleveland Chamber Symphony. In addition, he gave the first New York performance of Luciano Berio’s sequenza XIV, which he has recorded for release on Naxos’s complete sequenzas collection, the first such recording. With Red {an orchestra} he helped develop and premier the new dramatic work Schubert Songbook, which features himself on cello and soprano Arianna Zuckerman in a dramatic setting of orchestrated Schubert songs.

From 1997 until 2002, Adkins was a member of Flux, a string quartet dedicated to cutting-edge music. He appeared in major festivals in New York, Melbourne (Australia), Southern California (Ojai), and Oslo. During his tenure with Flux, he participated in numerous premieres, including the first complete live performance of Morton Feldman’s monumental Quartet II, lasting a continuous six hours. Alex Ross, music critic of the New Yorker, described it as “a disorienting, transfixing experience that repeatedly approached and touched the sublime.” The group subsequently recorded the work on Mode records, which was released in 2001. In 2011, Adkins joined the Lion’s Gate Trio, which enjoys a residency at the Hartt School of Music and an active performing and recording schedule.

In addition to the Mode label, Adkins has recorded for the Naxos, RCA, Tzadik, Koch, MMC, Arsis, Boston, and CRI labels, and his recording of duos by Ravel, Kodály, and Sessions is available on Engine Company Records. Following a 2008 New York Times rave review, the album surged into the Top Ten on Amazon’s Classical Album Charts. Adkins can also be heard on a SONY Classical recording of Jay Greenberg’s quintet performed with the Juilliard String Quartet.

Adkins joined the faculty of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music at Oberlin College beginning in the fall of 2003 and has been on the faculty of the Juilliard School since 1995. In 2003 he joined the faculty of the Aspen Music Festival and School, where he teaches cello and codirects the string chamber music program.

Besides receiving degrees at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where he studied with Norman Fischer, and the Juilliard School, where he was a student of Joel Krosnick, Adkins earned a Master of Music degree at Rice University. He is originally from Tacoma, Washington, and now lives in Westlake, Ohio, with his wife and four children.