Bach’s Cello Suites – among the best-known and best-loved works in the classical canon – get a thoroughly modern makeover from young Scottish composer Peter Gregson inRecomposed by Peter Gregson: Bach – The Cello Suites. Three hundred years after their creation, the six suites composed by Johann Sebastian Bach between 1717 and 1723 are given a stunning reinterpretation by the award-winning cellist for Deutsche Grammophon’s pioneering Recomposed series.
“These suites are the foundation of the cello repertoire and I’ve grown up hearing and playing them, so I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t lost sleep over worrying about what Bach might have thought of this,” admits Gregson. Instead of being performed by a solo player, the six suites are played by Gregson and an ensemble of up to five other cellists, in various combinations, and are underpinned by a subtle electronic soundbed created and played by the composer himself. “Rather than thinking about Bach’s compositions as a two-dimensional painting, I thought about them as sculpture. So although the object is the same, if you turn it around and see it from a different angle – shine the light on it in a different way – you get different textures coming out; different shadows get cast.”
He recorded the suites last winter at London’s Air Studios, turning an arsenal of analogue synthesisers into acoustic instruments by re-amping them. “So although they have a power cable in them they’re all performed by me – by a human being in a great big acoustic space.”
For Gregson, the complex production values of the recording – mapped out on more than 500 sheets of paper in his studio –were an integral part of the process of (re)composing. “Understanding how we use the room and where we place the instruments played a huge part in that compositional process,” he explains. “Listening to my version is like looking at Bach’s music through a different lens.”Peter Gregson is one of the UK’s leading cellists and contemporary composers. Born in Edinburgh in 1987, he began playing the cello when he was four, inspired not by hearing the instrument but by seeing James Bond “ski” down a mountainside on a cello case in The Living Daylights. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music and has also collaborated extensively with the Media Lab at MIT.
He has made three solo albums: Terminal (2010), Lights In The Sky (2014), and Touch(2015). Gregson Richter Jóhannsson (2011) is a two-track EP for Mute Records’ Short Circuit festival, written for him by Max Richter and the late Jóhann Jóhannsson. Cello Multitracks (2012) is a collaboration with the composer Gabriel Prokofiev. Gregson also composed and performed the soundtrack for the ballet FLOW (2013), and composed the film soundtracks for Alan Rickman’s A Little Chaos (2015) and Arran Shearing’s Forgotten Man (2017). His most recent releases are Quartets: One and Quartets: Two(both 2017) – two albums of string quartets which have since been used as the score for the ballet Eight Years of Silence.
Gregson has also worked extensively with Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions as solo cellist on numerous film and TV projects (including Wonder Woman, Terminator, Marcella, The Legend of Tarzan and Hacksaw Ridge); written string arrangements for Rag’n’Bone Man and Public Service Broadcasting; and conducted strings and played solo cello on Ed Sheeran’s chart-topping album ÷ (Divide).