interview

Ashley Bathgate on Bach Unwound, collaboration & more

Jan

04

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On January 12th, the Metropolis Ensemble will presented Bach Unwound with Ashley Bathgate and Sleeping Giant as part of their Resident Artist Series. Sequoia Sellinger recently caught up with their resident artist, Ashley Bathgate, to talk about the upcoming program & what it was like to collaborate with the Brooklyn based composer collective, Sleeping Giant. Take a look below! (via The Metropolis Ensemble Tumblr):
 
Bathgate, an innovative and tasteful cellist who brings classical and contemporary music to a new level, will perform “re-imagined” versions of Bach’s cello suites, a 21st century version of this staple in classical cello repertoire.
 
Recent press has acclaimed cellist Ashley Bathgate as an “eloquent new music intrepreter” (New York Times) and “a rising star of her instrument” (Albany Tmes Union) who combines “bittersweet lyricism along with ferocious chops” (New York Magazine). Bathgate describes working with Metropolis Ensemble as a “chance to stand out and to curate a show of your own, which is not something a lot of ensembles will encourage or support.”
 
1. WHAT’S IT LIKE TO COLLABORATE WITH THE BROOKLYN-BASED COMPOSER COLLECTIVE SLEEPING GIANT AND METROPOLIS ENSEMBLE?

I have been a member of Metropolis Ensemble since 2009, and I love working with them. Andrew Cyr always has really great programming ideas, and the musicians involved are some of the best in the city. The Resident Artist Series, started a couple years ago as a platform for the ensemble’s individual members to showcase their solo projects, also includes collaborations with today’s composers. It offers a unique chance to stand out and curate a show of your own, an opportunity few ensembles encourage or support. You ou can do things like this on your own, but in my opinion it’s not always as effective or easy to execute without the guidance and resources of an organization, like Metropolis, behind you.
 
The composers of Sleeping Giant have a long history together and also happen to be some of the leading composers out there right now. They’re killin’ it. When I thought up this idea, they were the first people who came to mind. I have played so much of their music in the past and even commissioned some of them individually, so we get to skip the whole “getting to know you” part and just dive right into music making. I appreciate how different each of them are in their compositional styles and also how well they work together as this collective to produce lengthier, collaborative compositions. I wanted to commission a multi-dimensional, multi-movement work for solo cello, and I knew they were the dream team for this project. Working with them has been incredible so far. It’s really exciting to have music written specifically for you and by people you know so well. Most of the pieces are finished now (I couldn’t ask for better Christmas presents!), and I am at the stage of working them up for the January premiere. We’ll meet and Skype to go over things in the next couple weeks. I have some of the electronic components left to assemble, but the piece has really begun to take shape, and I have a pretty clear idea of how the evening will go.
 
2. HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH THESE TWO ENSEMBLES AND COLLECTIVES?
 
I met most of what would become the Sleeping Giant composer collective during my time at the Yale School of Music. Andrew Norman, Ted Hearne, Timo Andres and Jacob Cooper were my classmates and I met Chris Cerrone and Robert Honstein a few years later when I returned for alumni concerts and other collaborations in New Haven. From there we all ended up in NYC doing various things. Because the new music community is quite small and tight-knit, we ended up seeing one another and working together quite often. We’re growing up together, in a way, and there’s just this sense that it will continue for many decades to come. I cannot wait to see where we all end up and how our lives will continue to intersect.
 
My first show with Metropolis Ensemble was as a sub for another cellist who couldn’t do the gig shortly after I had moved to the city. I remember feeling so lucky to have come onto their radar. It’s hard to be a free lancer, it’s hard to get started here, and I was surprised and elated that I was already satisfying my need for chamber music and orchestral playing, with some of the best musicians in the city, no less. On top of that, they were commissioning and programming interesting new music, about which I was becoming increasingly curious and passionate. Some of that music included works by members of the Sleeping Giant collective. It seemed only natural to make Metropolis a part of Bach Unwound’s beginnings.
 
3. THE BACH CELLO SUITES ARE SUCH A STAPLE IN THE CLASSICAL REPERTOIRE. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE CREATIVE PROCESS OF CREATING NEW CELLO WORKS BASED OFF OF THE UNACCOMPANIED CELLO SUITES OF J.S. BACH.
 
This project began with my desire to rediscover Bach’s Cello Suites. The last time I worked on them was during my days as a student. This was long before I became so heavily immersed in new music. I’ve grown in so many ways since then ,and it just felt like the right time to come back to this repertoire. I wanted to also find a way to link my love of contemporary music to this “re-discovery” process. There is plenty of new music for solo cello out there but not a lot that incorporates amplification/electronics and not a lot on the same scale as Bach’s Six Suites. I wanted something epic, and I wanted it to find some tether to a body of work that has been so loved and respected over the years, these compositional masterpieces that allowed the cello to step out as a solo voice beyond its traditional role as a continuo or basso accompaniment. I wanted the past to meet the present in order to show contrast but also to highlight the evolution of music and of this instrument in particular. Like, “Hey, here’s how far we have come because of works like Bach’s Suites. Thank you Bach, thank you Britten, Crumb, Xenakis, Golijov, Saariaho, thank you Casals, Rostropovich, Fred Sherry, Carter Brey, Frances Marie Uitti, Ernst Reijseger … thank you Sleeping Giant” … the list is endless and will continue to grow.
 
I gave the composers freedom to choose their inspiration from the suites based on what moved them most as individuals and as a group, be it a movement, a concept, a phrase, or just one chord. There were very few parameters because I wanted this to be more of a creative experiment than a prescription. As the performer of the work I also wanted to have the freedom to discover their pieces and then decide which movements of Bach would fit best. I don’t see the premiere in January as the one way it will always be performed. I wanted a certain amount of flexibility so that this project can continue to grow as I grow and live with the music.
 
I can’t speak to creating these new works (the Sleeping Giants would have more to say about that), but I can tell you about working on a program like this. I have found that being a performer of contemporary music requires different skill sets than performing more traditional repertoire. As a result, when I return to older music I approach it in a different way than I used to. One experience informs the other and I find that relationship intriguing. So the goal here is to dig deeper into my own being and to ask questions, like, do I separate Bach from the newer work or do I intermix the two? What movements of Bach would I pair with the new pieces and WHY? How will I order them? Will it work to interpret old like new or new like old or a mesh of both? Can I make this a seamless concert experience or will it need to breathe in sections? That’s where I am at with it right now. I am asking a lot of questions and I am trying a lot of different things that will lead to some (hopefully good) musical decisions.
 
4. WHAT OR WHO IS YOUR BIGGEST INFLUENCE AS AN ARTIST?
 
The people around me are my biggest influence. I am so fortunate to have amazing colleagues and a back yard that is overflowing with new and exciting art. Everywhere I turn people are creating; music, art, dance, film, etc. It’s impossible to run out of inspiration in this city and in a genre that excels at pushing limits and breaking down walls. The Bang on a Can All-Stars, our artistic directors Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe, as well as our “extended family” (which includes so many wonderful colleagues from the summer festival and various other collaborations), are who I spend most of my time with musically. Each one of them has had a tremendous impact on my approach to music and to my instrument. Since joining this band (almost 7 years ago now), I’ve become a better musician, I have found music to play that I am really passionate about and I have learned to embrace challenges and new ways of playing. I am enjoying a feeling of musical freedom that I never imagined I would have, and I owe that feeling to the people who surround me.


 
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Join us on Tuesday, January 12th to the second installment of The Metropolis Ensemble’s Artist in Residence Series. (details & tickets here)

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