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Zuill Bailey to perform Beethoven’s five cello sonatas with Elizabeth DeMio

UPDATED: Thu., Sept. 2, 2021

Zuill Bailey, Northwest BachFest artistic director and Grammy Award winner, performs with his 1693 cello for a crowd gathered at the WSU Spokane Academic Center on Feb. 24, 2017, in Spokane.  (Dan Pelle/The Spokesman-Review)
Zuill Bailey, Northwest BachFest artistic director and Grammy Award winner, performs with his 1693 cello for a crowd gathered at the WSU Spokane Academic Center on Feb. 24, 2017, in Spokane. (Dan Pelle/The Spokesman-Review)

Bringing BachFest’s 2020 Celebration of Beethoven’s 250th Birthday to a close, BachFest artistic director and cellist Zuill Bailey and pianist Elizabeth DeMio will perform Beethoven’s five cello sonatas.

Coming off his pre-summer series recording of Bach’s cello suites, Bailey is continuing his progression through “the three B’s” (Bach, Beethoven and Brahms) with another cycle of cello works, this time with DeMio, a friend and colleague of more than three decades. The concert begins at 7 p.m. Thursday at Barrister Winery.

“Talk about playing with an old friend,” Bailey said, emphasizing the kind of deep connection that develops between musicians over the course of a career. “It’s going to be tremendous.”

It all began with the Bach cello suites, Bailey said, but the next step was Beethoven. “Bach kind of created the platform,” he said. “And Beethoven took it further, so this is the perfect way to build off that foundation.”

The five sonatas span Beethoven’s life, telling his story as a composer, but also as a man slowly coming to terms with hearing loss. In the first two sonatas, written during his 20s, Beethoven’s prowess as a piano virtuoso almost outshines the cello, but by the third, the two instruments are being showcased equally.

“The music itself says, ‘Sonata for piano and cello,’ ” Bailey said, explaining how the cello becomes ancillary to the piano. “I wouldn’t say it’s insignificant, but it’s very textural, very ‘left hand of the piano.’ ” This makes sense of course, he said, because it would’ve been Beethoven sitting there.

“You can hear all of his confident glory, you know, this guy had it all, and he knew it,” Bailey said. “It’s so funny to me to traverse these sonatas because as you start to play them, you feel this kind of blind bravura, youthful abandon, and then all of a sudden you can start to feel the evolution of the cello itself.”

Listeners start to sense a growing understanding of what the cello is really capable of in the lyrical department, holding a melody and, as the second sonata transitions into the third, becoming an equal partner with the piano.

But along with the development, Bailey said, you almost begin to feel Beethoven’s pain as he struggles with what was once his superpower: his hearing.

“There’re some subtleties, questions, there’s more humanity and a little bit of suffering,” Bailey said. “He gives much more responsibility to the cello. In fact, the third sonata starts off without the piano, which, I can’t even imagine sitting there with Beethoven at the piano and kind of nodding for me to start.”

The evolution continues through the remaining two sonatas. The notes become fewer, more potent, drawn out and more thoughtful as his hearing deteriorates and Beethoven begins to do “things that only Beethoven can do.”

“You really hear what the maturation process and age and perspective does to everybody,” he said. “The slow movements are out of this world … it’s so rare to actually have kind of an arc of someone’s life in one evening.”

Attendees can expect to hear Bailey explain the evolution in greater detail throughout the concert.

“I did quite a lot in my early years to understand Beethoven, and now that I’m older, I’m kind of in another phase of understanding,” Bailey said. “But that’s just the glory of living these pieces over and over and coming back.”

For more information, visit nwbachfest.com.

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