| 03.17.2018

Five strings, six suites — Cellist plays rare five-string cello for Idaho Bach Festival


People of all ages filled the Haddock Performance Hall Tuesday night for a rare showcase of a five-string cello.

Miranda Wilson, an associate professor of cello, bass and theory at the University of Idaho, took the stage Tuesday night for the first concert of the seventh annual Idaho Bach Festival at UI.

Nearly 150 community-members, students and non-students, attended Wilson’s performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Six Suites for Solo Cello, played entirely from memory.

Wilson, who is also the co-artistic director of the festival and has been since 2013, played the first five suites on a standard four-string cello but switched to a five-string cello for the last suite, which Bach originally wrote for a five-stringed instrument.

She said that while it is possible to play Suite No. 6 on a four-string cello, it is extremely difficult to do, but with the five-string cello she could relax and focus on the beauty of the music as well as make rich chords and higher pitches.

“What could be more fun than playing the cello for a room full of enthusiasts?” Wilson said. “I love to share that gift with people. I like to think that I can move their hearts.”

Photo by Alexandra Stutzman | Argonaut
Assistant Professor of Horn Jason Johnston introduces The Palouse Brass Ensemble during the Bach Festival Wednesday evening at Haddock Performance Hall.

Wilson received a grant to construct the carbon-fiber five-string cello from the Transformative Research Investment and Partnership, a funding program through the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences and the Office of Research and Economic Development at UI.

“I hoped to contribute to an ongoing conversation in my field about this piece of music,” Wilson said. “I am very privileged and very fortunate to have the support from the university to do that.”

The type of five-string cello that she used for the concert is mostly used by rock and roll cellists, who are always looking for modifications to their instruments, she said.

UI Clinical Assistant Professor of Music Education, Lori Conlon Khan, said she attended the concert to support a colleague and to learn more about the five-string instrument that she knew nothing about. Conlon Khan said Wilson’s ability to memorize the suites and to switch between the two different instruments in the middle of the concert was amazing.

“That’s a lot of music to have in your head,” she said. “I loved it.”

Wilson said Bach’s Six Suites for Solo Cello have been a soundtrack to her life for nearly three decades. She said Bach’s music is tremendously exciting to play.

“The music of Bach speaks to a common humanity in all of us,” she said. “His music always surprises and delights me.”

The Idaho Bach Festival will continue through Friday, Jan. 19 with concerts each day.

Lionel Hampton School of Music Faculty will perform solos and small ensemble works 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 18 in the Haddock Performance Hall. The Vandaleers and soloists Christopher and Lynette Pfund will also perform Thursday.

The last concert of the festival will be a student recital at noon Friday, Jan. 19 in the Idaho Commons Rotunda.

Tickets to the evening concerts are available at the door and cost $5 for adults and $3 for students, children and senior citizens. Tickets are not required for Friday’s afternoon performance.

Jordan Willson can be reached at arg-arts@uidaho.edu

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