Cellist Erik Anderson On How Bach Shaped His Love Of Classical Music

eaIf you ask Erik Anderson about his love for music, he’ll tell you it didn’t start in childhood. In fact, it took years before Anderson chose music as his way of life – and the path to get there wasn’t a straight one. Today, Anderson is an accomplished cello player and conductor with a particular lover for Johann Sebastian Bach.

MUSICA MARIN: Can you tell our readers a little bit about your musical background? Do you come from a musical family?

ERIK ANDERSON: I began cello very young, I think in part because my parents wanted me to have some form of musical discipline, and in part because my grandmother was a professional violinist. My mother was a pianist and father sang in church.

I was the first grandchild, and had all the opportunities and expectations that comes with that position. Though I took lessons, practiced, and performed for most of my childhood, cello was more of a nuisance than a passion and I fought my parents bitterly over the issue of continuing. I was fortunate enough to have patient teachers through high school, and then to meet some very inspiring classmates at the University of Idaho, where I began as a student in architecture. After one semester, it was time to go all-in with music, and I’ve never regretted that choice.

My studies at Aspen and then at the Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music with renowned performer and teacher Yehudi Hanani were awakening. I discovered the magic in Bach, and in the structure of most types of music, fueling a love for analysis, theory, and my current passion for deconstructing and reconstructing music for audiences of all ages and musical education.

MM: You have a special kind of love for Bach’s music. What makes his music so special?

EA: I love Bach because, to my aesthetic, no one else blends such a mastery of craft with both mischievous creativity and earnest expressivity. I love sincerity and humility in music-making, and Bach is a paradigm. I have given lectures in combination with performance for years now, usually extemporaneous, and that has given rise to my OrdinaryExtraOrdinary series. The lecture is different every time, and the performance program proceeds at the whim of the audience, in conversation with their questions and curiosities. I will do this on the Friday evening program at Musica Marin next week.

MM: Aside from playing your own instruments, you’re also a conductor.  How do these two lives work together?
EA: I connect the string ensemble at Minot State University on a weekly basis, and conduct the annual Community Rocks concert here in Minot (a philanthropy I started; read about it on my website). I also guest conduct regional high school and junior high festivals, and guest conduct the Minot Symphony in rehearsal when needed.

The allure of conducting is that you are free from the responsibility of the single line, so you can concentrate on how you would like them all to be; just like a sculptor has to have a vision of the stone, a conductor must have a picture of the sound. Unlike a stone though, the orchestra is responsive and creative, and often it leads to a presentation that neither group would come to by themselves: collaborative! I love to conduct, but find myself too busy to do much more. I am the Chair of the Division of Music and an active cellist – that seems to be plenty! I also have four boys, ages 14-21, who all enjoy music and have equally busy schedules.

MM: What are you doing with Musica Marin this year and how did that collaboration came about?

EA: I met Ruth at a festival in Italy this summer, where we performed together, along with my wife, Dianna, a pianist who is also playing next weekend. These two concerts are our only collaboration planned for this season.

MM: What other projects are you working on right now?

EA: The project for November-December, other than completing the semester and helping our son Miles visit colleges (he is a senior, looking to major in Jazz guitar), will be to record the 5th Unaccompanied Suite of JS Bach (c minor), completing the set of all six suites that I began last April. Haven’t done any recording since May 10th due to traveling and other engagements. These will be available for the most part on my Soundcloud account: fourstringcntrpnt.

In January, my piano trio Luminus will present a series of programs and masterclasses in Grand Forks and at Mayville State University. Two weeks later, we will hold our third Community Rocks concert here in Minot; this music philanthropy has raised more than $120,000 in two years to benefit local organizations. I will give OrdinaryExtraOrdinary in Cincinnati next February, where I will also perform with the Bach Ensemble of St. Thomas, and again later that month at Drake University. In April, I am excited to perform Dvorak’s great cello concerto with the Minot Symphony Orchestra; haven’t played it in 20 years, so this will be a thrilling opportunity to study and present one of the cornerstones of the cello repertoire.

Our annual chamber music festival, Dakota Chamber Music, takes place fromJune 17-25 this next summer. In its 21st year, it is one of my favorite weeks of the calendar year. Last year we had record numbers of musicians, from junior high to adult, join Luminus and guest faculty from around the country for a week of chamber music and learning.

Summer is kept pretty bare so that our family can travel this year. Two of our kids will be leaving (one to college, one to graduate school), so Dianna and I feel like this summer should be about taking some trips and spending time as a complete unit. I know those days are numbered.