Pushing Bach Against Trump

A Cornish faculty cellist’s next performance will double as protest.

Photo by Michelle Smith-Lewis

Here we are only two weeks after the election, and already our president-elect is clashing with artists—and already artists are becoming motivated and energized to push back. But those working in representational art forms have it relatively easy: They can press their work directly into service of their political beliefs (or not) and make their message as clear (or not) as they like.

The question of protest becomes more complex with textless instrumental music, which operates on a listener on a plane other than verbal and in which, consequently, “meaning” in the usual sense is almost entirely a matter of the context of a performance. (Music’s nonverbal ambiguity, of course, gives it a power all its own; it jumps over words and right into you.)

Unless you do what cellist Vedran Smailović did: played Tommaso Albinoni’s “Adagio,” alone, in the ruins of bombed buildings in Sarajevo during that city’s siege, 1992–96, during the Bosnian War. Both as a memorial for the lives lost and an assertion of humanistic values amid barbarism, his gesture captured the world’s attention and set a template for the use of non-representational art as a statement of defiance. Matt Haimovitz echoed this in 2011 when he brought his cello to New York City’s Zuccotti Park to play Bach for Occupy Wall Street protesters. And Cornish College faculty cellist Paige Stockley will continue this tradition at her own protest performance this Friday.

Again the music will be Bach, whose six suites are the peak, both emotional and technical, of the solo cello repertory. “It’s an expression of my grieving,” Stockley says of her choice of two poignant slow movements, the Sarabandes from the Second and Fifth Suites. “Music always has a way to reach hearts the way marches don’t, and it is the best way I can think of to express the sadness in my heart that won’t go away that our country is going to be represented by someone not only unqualified, but whose character traits don’t include diplomacy, tact, restraint, or deep thought.” Stationed outside Elliott Bay Book Company from 3 to 4 p.m., her performance will represent a sort of requiem for what could have been and the democratic ideals the president-elect seems to hold in such contempt.

With commitments recruited via Facebook from cello colleagues in Los Angeles and New York who will perform at the same time in their own cities, Stockley’s protest will go nationwide. Participation is encouraged; contact her at pstockley@cornish.edu. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave., elliottbaybook.com. Free. 3–4 p.m. Fri., Nov. 25.

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