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Here are Bach’s six cello suites, played on the viola by one of the instrument’s greatest exponents, Kim Kashkashian.

Bach composed the suites around 1720 when he was in the employ of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. The autograph manuscript is no longer extant, and the earliest known copies date from 1726 and 1730, the latter made by Anna Magdalena Bach.

Hearing the Suites on the viola, with its range an octave above the cello, Paul Griffiths remarks in the liner notes, the music takes on “a different kind of sombreness, a different kind of dazzlement, a different kind of self-examination.” His essay details the characteristics of the suites and the dance forms – the allemandes, courantes, sarabandes, minuets, bourrés, gavottes and gigues - and emphasises Kashkashian’s sense of pulse, which “comes from the music, not from the clock. Bach’s dances are not for jaunting feet but made rather of shapes and images moving in the mind.”

Kim Kashkashian approaches the suites as a player whose sensibilities have been shaped by engagement with new music as well as classical tradition. For these performances she uses contemporary instruments, including a 5-string viola (as called for in the Anna Magdalena Bach manuscript) for the challenging D major suite, and brings to the whole set a feeling of freedom, grace and power. The cello suites have long been part of her performance repertoire, approached from multiple perspectives. (In concert, for instance, inspired by György Kurtág’s insertion of Bach arrangements amid his Játékok pieces, she has sometimes threaded sections of Kurtág’s Signs, Games and Messages in between movements). In her hands, the music is very much alive, and speaks to the present.

This recording is Kashkashian’s second ECM New Series album dedicated to Johann Sebastian Bach. In 1991 she recorded the viola da gamba sonatas with Keith Jarrett on harpsichord.


Recognized internationally as a unique voice on the viola, Kim Kashkashian studied with Karen Tuttle and Walter Trampler at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore.

The recipient of numerous prizes she received a 2013 Grammy Award in the Best Classical Instrumental Solo category for Kurtág and Ligeti: Music for Viola on ECM New Series. Kim Kashkashian’s recording, with Robert Levin, of the Brahms Sonatas, won the Edison Prize in 1999. Her 2000 recording of concertos by Bartók, Eötvös and Kurtág won the 2001 Cannes Classical Award for a premiere recording by a soloist with orchestra. Kim was awarded the George Peabody Medal for outstanding contributions to music in America, as well as the Golden Bow award of Switzerland. In 2016 she was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

As an advocate of contemporary music, she has worked to broaden scope of the viola’s voice and repertoire in collaboration with many composers including Tigran Mansurian, Péter Eötvös, Ken Ueno, Betty Olivero, Lera Auerbach and Toshio Hosokawa.

Marlboro and the Viennese School, represented by her mentor, Felix Galimir, were major influences in developing her love of chamber music. She is a regular participant at the Verbier, Salzburg, Lockenhaus, Marlboro, and Ravinia festivals. As soloist, she has appeared with the major orchestras of Berlin, London, Vienna, Paris, Milan, New York, and Cleveland and presented duo recitals in New York, Boston, Baltimore San Francisco, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Frankfurt, Berlin, Vienna, Munich, Paris, Athens, and Tokyo. Ms. Kashkashian, resides in Boston, teaching viola and coaching chamber music at the New England Conservatory, and is Founder and President of the project Music for Food.

CD booklet includes liner notes by Paul Griffiths, and a performer’s note by Kim Kashkashian, in English and German.

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