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Originally published Wednesday, March 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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The Seattle Violoncello Society celebrates Bach's birthday with a cello marathon Saturday

The cellos are coming. Every year, in the month of Johann Sebastian Bach's birthday, the Seattle Violoncello Society presents a free Bach...

Seattle Times music critic

Coming up

Bach Cello Marathon

Seattle Violoncello Society, 10 a.m. to about 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church, 7500 Greenwood Ave. N., Seattle; free (206-523-6868).

Hear it

Yo-Yo Ma has recorded all six Bach Cello Sonatas. Hear excerpts online at his Web site: www.yo-yoma.com.

The cellos are coming.

Every year, in the month of Johann Sebastian Bach's birthday, the Seattle Violoncello Society presents a free Bach Cello Marathon — one of the nicer public-service events in the Northwest music community. This year the marathon marking Bach's birth on March 21, 1685, takes place Saturday, its March 29 date a bit later than usual, due to the early appearance of Easter.

The Cello Society, as it is more informally known, has lined up 26 of the Northwest's finest cellists under the leadership of Cordelia Wikarski-Miedel, faculty cellist at the University of Puget Sound, and Seattle Symphony cellist Roberta Hansen Downey, to perform Bach's six solo Cello Suites Saturday at Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church.

Among the performers for the 20th anniversary marathon: Joshua Roman, principal cellist of the Seattle Symphony, and the young Julian Schwarz, an up-and-comer who also is the son of Seattle Symphony music director Gerard Schwarz. They'll join professionals, top students and teachers from around the state.

The performers take turns playing movements from six of the greatest works for solo cello or any other instrument: Bach's peerless Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, probably composed during the years 1717-1723. The Suites, regularly performed and recorded by the world's great cellists, frequently figure on the "desert-island discs" lists of top favorites among music lovers around the globe. The Bach Suites are so popular that they have been transcribed for a surprising array of instruments, from the viola and the clarinet to the harp, mandolin, marimba and tuba.

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, whose own recording of the Suites is among the best available, expanded his approach to these works a few years back with a multimedia video series, "Inspired by Bach," aired over PBS stations to considerable acclaim.

This year's marathon will begin with the odd-numbered suites (Nos. 1, 3 and 5), followed by the even-numbered ones (2, 4, 6). There will be a short break at noon for a bring-your-own lunch. Listeners can come for the whole experience, or they can drift discreetly in and out, at breaks between the performers.

In addition to Roman, Schwarz and Downey, the roster will include such players as Walter Gray, John Michel, Rajan Krishnaswami, Dave Beck, Miriam Shames, Chris Gillgren, Mary Walters, Kevin Krentz, Charles Jacot, Rich Eckert, Richard Treat, Tom Walworth, Brian Wharton, Jenny Robertson, Brett Smith and several others.

Wharton and Downey have played all 20 years of the Bach Cello Marathon.

As always, the marathon is free to all comers, performed by the Violoncello Society as a public service and a tribute to one of the world's greatest composers.

Melinda Bargreen: mbargreen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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