A stunning Amandine Beyer courageously took the stage this weekend during a string of concerts surrounding the theme of J.S. Bach during Utrecht’s Bach Dag (Bach Day). Comprising seven concerts on Saturday alone in churches inside the beautiful city of Utrecht, this two-day event was produced by the Festival Oude Muziek Utrecht (Utrecht Early Music Festival). The Bach Dag was a microcosm of the larger festival which takes place in August–September each year in venues all across the city, attracting, like this weekend, the very top musicians from the world of early music.

Amandine Beyer © Oscar Vazquez
Amandine Beyer
© Oscar Vazquez

Beyer’s afternoon concert in the Geertekerk was exquisitely played as the soft light of the sun and snow gave just the right mix of frost and warmth outside. Impressive not only in her performance from memory, Ms. Beyer has a commanding and inviting presence uncommon for so hefty a solo program.

The solo violin repertoire from J.S. Bach is, as Beyer describes in her program notes, some of the most cherished and challenging for the instrument. Choosing an ambitious program including two sonatas and one partita, the hour’s length was just enough for the ears and the soul.

As she mounted the large platform in the center of the church, Beyer’s petite presence expanded to its full power as the first notes of the violin were struck. Opening with the Partita no. 3 in E major, the bright full character of the four-sharped tonality rang invitingly throughout the hall. To begin our long journey with Beyer, somehow within the first few seconds all was clear. We were in for a treat.

Technical in her capacities, Beyer also exhibits a very personal side in her playing. A brief moment of near applause towards the end of the Partita caught both her and the audience off guard. But the slightest and funniest of gestures made on her part with a slight upward shrug of the shoulders and pointing of the bow prevented any hands from clapping and brought us all the closer into Beyer’s hand as she led us on through the program.

Continuing on with the Sonata no. 1 in G minor, we came to experience the dark, rich despair of the minor key. Not hindering or getting too much “in the way” of the music, Beyer played simply and sensitively, listening all the while to the reverberation of her sound as it travelled through the high beams of the church up above. I appreciated this approach of letting the music sound on its own and the act of daring to allow the surrounding acoustic affect and enhance the performance.

We hear Bach experimenting with texture in the beginning of the final work on the program, the Sonata no. 3 in C major. The violin becomes a harmonic instrument, using an almost contrapuntal layering of bass notes to support an intense progression of sound. All throughout such complicated and demanding passagework, the eyes and ears of Beyer are present and one can catch her making contact directly with her audience exchanging subtle and aware glances with her listeners.

It’s amazing to experience an hour-long program on one instrument from one composer. It’s testament both to the composition of Bach and the tender execution of Beyer which stands to the audience not only enduring but enjoying the full length of the experience. Not once did my mind wander to what I was going to eat for lunch or how much grief I was going to have biking through the snow after this. Beyer’s command of herself and her instrument is intriguing and captivating in a way which makes you forget the world and focus on the sound which she cares so deeply for.