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Earlier this month, world-renowned mandolinist, Grammy-nominated musician, and ArtistWorks bluegrass mandolin instructor, Mike Marshall, released his latest album, Mike Marshall Mandocello J.S. Bach Cello Suite No. 2, BWV 1008.

 

Mike Marshall is not only a virtuosic mandolinist but is well-known as a master of a variety of stringed instruments including the guitar, fiddle, and mandocello. Additionally, he is not only prolific in the bluegrass style, but is also well-versed in Brazilian choro music, jazz, and classical repertoire.

 

On June 18, 2022, Mike once again solidified his status as a master of the strings when he released his latest album performing the entirety of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cello Suite No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1008 unaccompanied on the mandocello. A follow-up to his 2021 release, Mike Marshall Mandocello J.S. Bach Cello Suite No. 1, BWV 1007, this new six-track album is the second cello suite of six from J.S. Bach that Mike has mastered and recorded for the world.

 

LEARN MORE: Want to learn how to play bluegrass mandolin from a master musician like Mike Marshall? Try some free online mandolin lessons now!

 

We had the opportunity and pleasure to connect with Mike for a brief Q&A to discuss the making of his latest album, its recording process, and the inspiration behind his Cello Suite project:

 

ArtistWorks: What about this particular Bach cello suite most speaks to you?

 

Mike Marshall: D Minor… The darkest of keys! For us string instrumentalists it is the ‘go-to’ key. Open strings sing out, and so many great pieces have been written for strings in this key. It just feels at home on cello and violin as a key center. And in this suite, Bach explores all the obvious riches that sit so naturally on the instrument with passages that feature open drone strings and such.

 

At the same time, he digs you down into the music and takes us places that we couldn’t have imagined going. Places where your open strings matter not at all. It becomes pure music at that point. And as players, it is our greatest challenge to find solutions to make the music feel natural and light on the instrument.

 

AW: What inspired you to learn, perform, and record these Cello Suites?

 

MM: I have had a love affair with the mandocello for 40 years and the idea of adapting these works has been a dream for most of that time. At first, it seemed almost impossible since there has been no real precedent or tradition for how to approach these pieces on this instrument. But as time has gone on and I’ve learned how to negotiate the challenges of the mandocello, it has finally seemed like something very natural to do. Certainly, all the work that I’ve done with Caterina Lichtenberg has helped inform me when it comes to Baroque music and especially J.S. Bach.

 

I have finally gotten to the point where I feel like I have something to say with these pieces on the mandocello. I understand something about the period and culture that they come from.

 

And of course, it feels very natural to play the music on this instrument since it has the same tuning as the cello.

 

AW: What inspired you to follow up Bach cello suite #1 and continue the series?

 

MM: The 6 suites cover an amazing range of musical exploration and emotional content. This year, I have gotten Suite #3 under my fingers and it’s ready to go. I will be recording it this summer.

 

AW: Do you have plans to continue this series of Bach cello suites?

 

MM: It would be a real accomplishment and a feeling that I have climbed to the top of some musical mountain if I could record all 6 of these masterpieces. We will see...

 

AW: How was this album recorded? How did it compare to the recording process of your first Bach cello suite record?

 

MM: The first suite I recorded myself at my home studio in Wuppertal, Germany with my two KM84 Neumann microphones and a Coles ribbon mic. It was a very intimate experience, perfect for this time of Covid where many of us musicians were home alone and wanted to look inward for musical inspiration.

 

The second suite I recorded in Oakland, California with my long-time recording engineer Dave Luke. We recorded it in a nice studio with many more microphones and his wonderful engineering skills.

 

AW: Did you approach this second Bach cello suite any differently than the first? If so, how?

 

MM: I think I approached the two suites pretty similarly. I think they simply reflect my understanding of this music as I have studied it up to this point in my life.

 

While I try as much as possible to learn and listen to all that is out there about what Bach might have wanted these pieces to sound like, there’s no getting around the fact that I bring all the musical influences that I have had in my life into this music. But of course, as I progress down this path, I am in a constant state of discovering and learning.

 

I think with each new suite you will hear me discovering just a few more details, but in the end, Bach seems to allow us all to be ourselves within the context of his music. No matter who plays Bach’s music and what they try to bring to it, Bach seems to understand this and is fine standing there like a giant mountain of wisdom anchoring us to its truth, wisdom, and stability.

 

AW: Do you have any tips or recommendations for mandolinists or mandocellists who may be breaking into the world of classical music for the first time?

 

MM: Probably the biggest challenge for us mandolinists who come from bluegrass or a groove-based musical background is to begin to understand the idea of a musical phrase having a trajectory and a direction. These musical lines can be long and may or may not be so tied to the pulse of the music as strongly as we are used to. To be able to play non-swinging 1/8th notes is a big challenge too, but it’s key to creating these longer phrase lengths.

 

Also understanding Bach’s slur marks and how those might be reflected in the pick and how we  can copy this articulation is something new to many of us groove-based musicians.

 

The other thing about these pieces that’s intriguing is that they have counterpoint and bass lines and chord changes written within them even though what you are looking at appears often to be a single line of music. So, I think it’s important for us to help the listener hear those separate voices and the harmonic motion in the music.

 

AW: Are there any additional thoughts or details about this project or others that you’d like to share with the ArtistWorks community?

 

MM: I only hope that by working as hard as I have and by presenting recordings like this that other musicians might take up the challenge and dive into this wonderful world of the Mandocello, especially as it relates to playing Johann Sebastian Bach’s Music.

 

Mike’s masterful mandocello performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cello Suite No. 2 in D Major, BWV 1008 can be downloaded and purchased directly from Mike’s Bandcamp page.

 

LEARN MORE:

Have you always wanted to learn how to play the bluegrass mandolin? Through our comprehensive mandolin lessons online and Video Exchange Learning platform here at ArtistWorks, you can learn from internationally renowned players, like Mike Marshall, and get personal feedback on your playing.

 

Mike’s course starts with the basics and teaches everything from beginner mandolin to advanced performance techniques, classic bluegrass tunes, improvisation methods, and beyond. So, whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced player, all levels are welcome and all students will grow and improve their skills as mandolinists and musicians.

 

Sample some free music lessons here and see what makes ArtistWorks courses some of the best online music lessons around!

 

READ MORE:

Mandolin Lesson: An Introduction to Mandocello with Mike Marshall

ArtistWorks Music Roundtable Podcast—Episode 1: Mike Marshall & Caterina Lichtenberg

Classical Mandolin Lesson: An Introduction to Vibrato with Caterina Lichtenberg

 

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