The Bach Project: Producer Perspectives Pt. I

A brief biography

Having been brought up with a very open-minded exposure to many forms of music - classical, jazz, rock, pop and elsewhere - and having become fascinated by the technical and creative possibilities of the recording process in the late 1980s, I actually ought to lead any discussion about my role here with a simple, quasi-confessional realisation: in hindsight there has never been any road map, or any strategic sense of working towards a "standardised" musical career in my case.

As such, the motivations behind all the various musical projects I have participated in - be they centred around the classical traditions, or concerned with emergent genres - have always had one thing in common: to have serious fun. Put bluntly, I don't much like music which is not serious, but studiously avoid music which is not fun to be a part of.


Project beginnings

I was introduced to David Milsom by a mutual friend, Robert Webb, before a concert he'd asked me to record. Robert is a choral conductor and composer with a hectic schedule, for whom I had already made a number of live recordings. He had mentioned David's name on several occasions, as early as 2012 in fact, suggesting we should talk some time. But it was only in September 2014 that our paths finally crossed.

This was an ambitious choral concert at St Marie's Cathedral, Sheffield. Robert had spliced two duets for piano and violin into the programme, to break it up a little. The first piece - Arvo Pärt's Fratres - immediately took my breath away. Of course it is a superb composition - mesmerising in fact - but under David's fingers, the sense of drama, musical integrity and individualistic creative vision made it seem imperative that I should suggest recording together, under less fraught conditions. Studio conditions, to be precise.

We quickly scheduled and recorded a number of works for piano and violin, including a revisit of Fratres with pianist Jonathan Gooing; he and David are an established team, forming the backbone of flexible chamber group Meiningen Ensemble.

Encouraged by our first recordings, there was an appetite to do something with solo violin. Not just audio, but video too. Something to really get stuck into.


A decision for Bach

Both as a pianist and as a listener, there are a few composers I never tire of. Top of that list is Bach: here is timeless music that, to my mind, encompasses the entire gamut of human emotion, with beguiling intellectual insight and peerless structural finesse. Bach is the composer's composer. Also, to paraphrase András Schiff, he is the best of us, but still one of us.

David is similarly keen on Bach. Which is just as well, because his is the brain that will operate the fingers that will squeeze every last note out of each movement of the six mighty works for solo violin.

That's no mean feat. More to the point, such technically demanding music means a performer really must love it; these are extraordinarily difficult pieces, which can only ever really reward those with a sense of artistic purpose.



In summary, The Bach Project came about pretty much by accident, borne of a collective gut instinct, and after a slightly random meeting. From my perspective, that's ideal.


Fast forward

Also, it's BIG. And it has in-built creative flexibility: we can - and will - do whatever we are inspired to do with it, experimenting, learning, re-evaluating as we go. We will try different violins, strings, venues, and production approaches. We will experiment with videography, lighting, cameras and new technology. It will be serious fun.

Whilst we are not attempting our journey with a map and a fluorescent marker, it will - at least in once sense - end in what we believe to be the first complete DVD set of these six masterpieces.

Ostensibly this is a "destination", but in a wider context we hope and believe the project will be the start of new journeys. Just like all previous journeys were.



Latest excerpts can be found below, and will be updated regularly.





James Bacon, March 2016


© Bach Violin Project 2016