J.S.Bach: Cello Suites (films)

The films of the Bach Cello Suites were made in the Church of St. George in Staro Nagoricane, North Macedonia. Built in the 14th century, this church is considered one of the finest examples of Christian churches of its time and is situated on the border between Macedonia and Serbia.

As a child I visited many old and beautiful churches in former Yugoslavia with my father, who was a choral conductor and a great admirer of the fresco art. The atmosphere of orthodox monasteries and churches like Studenica, Sopocani or Staro Nagoricane, as well the sound of the choral music which I heard there, stayed in my heart and had a profound influence on my imagination and experience of art and music in general.

When I first started to play Bach at the age of 7, I imagined playing it in these churches. I immediately sensed (and learned about) the deep connection which Bach’s music has to religion and the bible. For me, this world was in these churches. The powerful and colourful frescos would come to life and could speak to me. This was in 1960s and 70s during the communist era; I lived in Belgrade and Moscow, where any connection to religion and the church had to be hidden.

Even in the last 30 years, I faced another problem in my wish to play Bach in one of these churches: that the Orthodox Church forbids instrumental music; only singing is allowed. After several unsuccessful attempts I had to accept that this was impossible, but still held on to the dream of doing so one day. Finally, miraculously, it became possible for me to record in this church – just for a single day! I feel extremely lucky and grateful that I was able to get permission to record these films in one day in the exceptional Church of St. George in Staro Nagoricane.

The limitation of one day and one church turned out to be just right for this project. In the films we see always the same church and frescos, but at different times of the day and with changing atmospheres inside, according to the character of the particular suite. To me personally, each fresco has many layers and varied meanings, which gradually came to me through seeing and experiencing them in different periods of my life. In listening to the music and seeing the images in this film it is not necessary to know which fresco is shown and why; the approach could be more like that of the Orthodox church service – simply emotional surrender.

Xenia Jankovic