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Kromholz performs Bach solo violin works

Joseph Kromholz was about 12 years old when he saw violinist Christian Tetzlaff perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s complete works for solo violin.

“I was absolutely mesmerized, transfixed,” he said. “It’s been a devotion, almost an obsession of mine ever since. It was a profoundly moving experience for me and a pivotal moment in my musical development.”

Kromholz, 33, will get a chance to fulfill his obsession, performing Bach’s three sonatas and three partitas for solo violin over two concerts this weekend at Youngstown State University’s Bliss Recital Hall.

“I’ve performed all of them before for the public, but never all at once,” he said. “It’s been a lifelong goal of mine to play all six solo works of Bach’s for violin. It’s sort of the Everest of violinistic undertakings. It’s a mountain every violinist loves to climb at some point in their life. It’s rare it gets to happen. I’m lucky to have been able to invest the time to make it happen.”

Kromholz is the head of strings at YSU’s Dana School of Music, where he teaches violin, viola and chamber music. He previously taught violin at Luther College and music theory at New England Conservatory.

He maintains an active career as a solo, chamber and orchestral musician. He serves as concertmaster of the Warren Philharmonic Orchestra and Opera Western Reserve and associate concertmaster of the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra and CityMusic Cleveland Chamber Orchestra. He also performs with the Dana String Quartet and is a founding member of the Linden String Quartet.

Bach’s solo works for violin were written over several years, but he completed them in 1720, making this the 300th anniversary of the compositions. Kromholz said he began working two years ago to be able to perform the pieces for the anniversary.

“They are just as moving and relevant today as they were then,” he said. “I find it inspiring. They are such a monumental achievement in music and still are an important part of any string player’s repertoire. They’ve stood the test of time.”

Kromholz described the pieces as physically, mentally and emotionally taxing.

“There are no rests where you take a break and someone else plays … You want to give them your all but you have to pace yourself.”

As well known as the works are, there is not much information about their creation, Kromholz said. Bach was known for his work as a composer and as a harpsichordist and pianist, but he also was an accomplished violinist. There is little documentation to indicate whether Bach wrote the pieces for himself to perform or if they were composed for one of his friends or colleagues who played the violin.

That lack of information give violinists some freedom in how they program the pieces. Kromholz decided to divide the works over two concerts, playing the three sonatas at 7:30 p.m. Friday and the three partitas at 3 p.m. Sunday.

“The partitas are essentially dance suites, each movement is one of the courtly dances of the time or of Bach’s recent past,” he said. “The sonatas are slightly more austere, more structured and, if I dare say it, more academic in nature.”

Kromholz doesn’t expect this to be the only time he performs these compositions together.

“I hope this is something I can continue doing here and there the rest of my life, as long as my body and mind will allow me to,” Kromholz said.

He compared it to how Yo-Yo Ma has revisited Bach’s cello suites at different points in his career.

“It’s an onion that will never stop peeling. There are always deeper and deeper layers … These works are enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for Bach’s works.”

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