It’s always amazing to see musicians from all backgrounds — professional and emerging talent, pianists, violinists, clarinetists, singers, vocal groups, jazz musicians — discussing their craft in an easy-going collegiate setting.
For this reason alone, Micheal Lawrence’s documentary BACH & Friends is deserving of the highest acclaim.
The beauty of the documentary is that it successfully pairs groups of musicians you might never expect to see working together.
The list is impressive enough: Glenn Gould, Hilary Hahn, Simone Dinnerstein, Felix Hell, Joshua Bell, Richard Stoltzman, and the Emerson Quartet juxtaposed with Ward Swingle and the Swingle Singers, Bobby McFerrin, Bela Fleck — even the composer Philip Glass makes an entrance.
The crux of Lawrence’s documentary is the notion that music, especially Bach’s music, has the potential to bring people of disparate backgrounds together.
What Lawrence successfully illustrates in his documentary is an extraordinary miracle — the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, written in the 18th century, can be performed by a number of musicians with virtually any instrumentation and still come out beautiful.
Indeed, some of the most interesting musical commentary about Bach came from the most unlikely of sources.
Here, it is appropriate to mention Bobby McFerrin’s inspiring wisdom concerning the art of improvisation. Artists like McFerrin remind us that sometimes music is meant to be alive and spontaneous — a motion that Bach himself would no doubt have seconded, considering that he himself was renowned for this improvisations.
And now, we turn to the music making.
This documentary is significant in taking a snapshot of Bach as it is performed today.
Particularly, pianist Simone Dinnerstein deserves recognition for a magical performance of the Goldberg Variations, which is aired in proximity with Glenn Gould’s legendary performance.
Other Easter eggs include Joshua Bell’s performance of the D minor — and we cannot go without mentioning the Swingle Singers, who brought a new and innovative sense of vitality to Bach’s music.
What Lawrence’s documentary shows us is that professional musicians contribute to society in a collegial manner. It is a gift to hear the thoughts and the music of Glenn Gould and Felix Hell juxtaposed with Bobby McFerrin and the Emerson Quartet.
We hope that their collegiality will be a model for all of us in our endeavor towards professionalism.