Guest cello recital to highlight the influence of Bach

GVL / Courtesy -
Christopher Hutton

GVL / Courtesy - Christopher Hutton

Jenny Adkins

While composer Johann Sebastian Bach may be known for his grand orchestral movements, sometimes overlooked are his cello compositions. These pieces of music, made for the solo cello player, are what inspired cellist Christopher Hutton to bring the pieces and their lasting influence to the stage. 

Coming to Grand Valley State University Friday, Nov. 3, Hutton will be performing his set at the Haas Center for Performing Arts at 7:30 p.m.

His series of performances, known as the “Reflecting BACH” tour, have brought Hutton around his home country of New Zealand and currently around the Midwest, totaling more than 50 performances. 

Part of the beauty of the music, according to Hutton, is how important Bach’s work has been to musicians since the 1700s.

“The focus of the tour is taking the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, in which he wrote a set of six suites for solo cello about 300 years ago,” Hutton said. “Bach’s pieces have become the core of solo cello movements, for the music written for the cello alone.”

The tour focuses on schools ranging from middle school to college, but Hutton has also been featured at larger events, such as the University of Iowa’s “Cello Daze” festival. Though many of Hutton’s audience members have musical backgrounds or training, some of the pieces he will perform may still be unfamiliar, particularly the cello pieces inspired by Bach but written by other composers, such as Benjamin Britten.

“Music students may or may not know some of the solo cello music,” Hutton said. “They probably will know the first movement of the program that I’ll play because it is probably one of the single most famous pieces ever written for solo cello. Many people will probably be less familiar with the Britten piece, which I think is really one of the great masterpieces ever written for the cello, and I don’t use that word lightly.”

Hutton said pieces by the more modern composer Britten show how crafting cello pieces with “Bach-esque” skill is still a practice. With Britten’s compositions being different from the straightforward Bach pieces, Hutton says he uses the performance as a teaching tool, not just a recital. 

“When presenting Britten’s piece, I like to take the audience on a short, guided tour of it, taking them through the different movements before I play,” Hutton said. “Audiences who have never really heard the piece before, they often then really get some guidance to listen close to and really get a lot out of hearing it for the first time.”

According to Hutton, the tour aims to highlight how Bach’s groundbreaking cello compositions have influenced other cello movements throughout musical history. Through performing, he hopes to show Bach’s long-lasting effect on solo cello music as a whole. 

“There are a lot of other composers, especially in the 20th century and ongoing, who have written works that have been influenced by or inspired by Bach’s suites for the solo cello,” Hutton said. “So I’m playing some concerts that are just Bach and other concerts, like the one at GVSU, that juxtapose Bach with music by later composers.”