Alumna cellist performs with period instrument

On Wednesday Jan. 11, alumna Lindsey Crabb gave an eye-opening presentation and performance of J.S. Bach’s Suite No. 6 in D major for solo cello. She focused on the difference between how it is usually played on modern cellos and how it was originally meant to be played on a five-string cello.

Crabb graduated from Lawrence in 2009 with a Bachelor of Music degree in Cello Performance. Currently, she lives in Madison, WI, where she is an active member of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Willy Street Chamber Players. She is very devoted to music education and helps with several Madison-area youth music programs in addition to running her own studio.

Bach’s sixth cello suite, the focal point of her lecture-demonstration and the piece she performed in its entirety shortly afterward, is widely thought to have been written for a five-string cello. This instrument has an E string in addition to the usual A, D, G and C strings on a normal cello, which allows it to play higher notes more comfortably than a standard four-string cello.

Crabb used both types of cello in her presentation. Her own five-string cello is a 1979 model created using patterns from 1684 and has a tan-colored fingerboard made from light wood. Knowing that most of her audience were cellists and other string players, she was able to use terms and give advice that only other performers would understand.

Crabb acknowledges that most people do not own a five-string cello, so she focused on how modern cellists could try to apply its strengths to their own performance. Since five-string players have more options for chord fingerings, they can usually achieve a more resonant, ringing sound by using more open strings. She recommended trying to find resonant fingerings where possible and using chord progressions and voice leading to figure out which notes to emphasize.

As she made her points, she used both instruments extensively to make side-by-side comparisons of different passages. She showed how the ease of performance on the five-string cello affected the final sound quality. By the time the demonstration ended and she was prepared to give a full performance of the suite, the audience was accustomed to her sound and energy.

Of course, Crabb chose the five-string for the full performance. During the first movement, the Prelude, Crabb had the chance to show off her flexible bow arm as she tackled tricky bariolage triplets. She had been an impressive speaker, but she was an even more impressive performer. She seemed deeply involved in characterizing and coloring each movement, moving between the Sarabande, Gavottes and Gigue seamlessly. She brought out the dance motions everywhere she went.

Questioning the way things are done is core to the art of performance, as Crabb demonstrated. Her rendition of Suite No. 6 would likely surprise many contemporary cellists who have not gone to the same lengths to remain faithful to the original score and performance practice.