Pavlos Carvalho: ‘There is something very cleansing about Bach’

Playing Bach is rather like taking a shower in the mornings, reckons Haywards Heath-based cellist Pavlos Carvalho.

Pavlos Carvalho
Pavlos Carvalho

You can get through the day without it, but it really won’t be quite the same, he laughs.

There’s just something about Bach, especially if you are a cellist, as Pavlos will show in the first of his three contributions to this year’s Festival of Chichester.

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Pavlos Carvalho plays Bach is in St John’s Chapel, St John’s Street, Chichester on Friday, June 19, at 7.30pm.

He returns to the same venue with Greek band Plastikes Karekles on Friday, June 26, 7.30pm, before completing his trio of St John’s Chapel dates for the Festival of Chichester with a performance by Ensemble Reza on Sunday, June 28, at 7.30pm, when they will be presenting a programme entitled Great Romantic String Quintets.

As a boy, Pavlos woke every morning to the sound of his father Santiago playing the first Bach suite. Now Pavlos’ six-year-old daughter, also a budding cellist, wakes up to the same sound.

“My father was a cellist, and it’s a subject I have carried on. Every morning, whatever he was meant to be practising, he would always play a little Bach. This was in Lindfield. I grew up hearing all these different pieces, but Bach was the one consistent.”

And so it has continued with Pavlos. Whatever he is playing, the prelude will be a warm-up of studies, of scales and of Bach.

“I don’t know what it means to my father, but I think there is something very cleansing about Bach. You can compare it to your shower in the morning. If you don’t have it, the day won’t feel quite right – and it is the same with Bach. It puts you in a fresh state. It’s very pure music. It is good for the soul. There is something spiritual about the music. You feel a connection with nature. Maybe it is the way he uses harmonies. Maybe it is something to do with the types of scales, but there is something very cathartic about it. If you start your day with Bach or end your day with Bach, there is a physical relief.

“It’s also a psychological thing for cellists. It is not just my father, but also my teachers. It is something very precious, but also something you need every day. You see the cello, you pick it up and you play some Bach and then you continue with your day.

“Now it is the same with my daughter. My six-year-old is a very keen cellist. It’s how you start. That’s the interesting thing. Bach is written improvisation. Bach is the spirit of improvisation. It’s so interesting seeing my daughter trying to pick out some of the notes I have been playing, and it’s that approach which is actually the fundamental principle of Bach himself.

“You get into the mind frame if you play Bach. There is perhaps a difficulty particularly with the awareness of period performance, but for me, whether consciously or unconsciously, it is all about the clarity of the voicing. Even when he is writing for the cello, he is writing for different voices, and the challenge is to make the voicing clear. If you look at the score, you are faced with a barrage of notes. You have to find out which ones are of primary importance, which ones of secondary importance. The idea is to put in that hard work so the end result appears simple. But you will always see new things. You can spend your entire life trying to find out the definitive version, but you won’t. That’s both the joy and the frustration!”

For Chichester, Pavlos will play the solo Bach cello suites (1,3,5). Tickets £12; seniors £12; students £6; children £6.

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