Reconsidering and improvising Bach

Philadelphia Museum of Art presents The Bach Cello Suites Project

2 minute read
Price on stage in a chair playing cello, a piano in the background.
Young cellist Tristan Price performs ‘The Bach Cello Suites Project’ this weekend. (Photo by Bai Xue.)

How can we gain a fresh perspective on a classic work? For anyone seeking that perennial challenge, the Philadelphia Museum of Art offers a multifaceted opportunity on Saturday, July 29. First, view the show The Artist’s Mother: Whistler and Philadelphia, anchored by the famous portrait known as “Whistler’s Mother.” There sits stately Anna Whistler, clad in black against a grey background. Around her hang other artists’ portraits of their moms, including some that poignantly contrast with Whistler’s formality. From Gallery 251, stroll to the Great Stair Hall, where another mother-child pair, choreographer Megan Bridge and 15-year-old cellist Tristan Price, will offer two performances of The Bach Cello Suites Project. Bach created six suites in all, and the duo will kick off their anticipated series with the instantly familiar first one.

Discovering movements

Many musicians get to know these Bach suites early on and return to them throughout their lives, says Bridge, a well-known Philadelphia choreographer and performer, over Zoom. Through this ongoing project—the brainchild of composer-musician Peter Price, Tristan’s dad—the duo plans to revisit and reconsider. Bridge wonders what the work will look like when Tristan is, say, age 30. But through structured improvisation, she pursues discovery in this first round, too. “It’s important to me to be familiar with the score,” she said. “Then, once I’m grounded in that architecture, I’m free to move how I want within that. The actual movements that I’m doing are coming up in real-time, and for me, that’s the beauty of bringing an improvisational approach to the Bach. The music is so rich—and Tristan doesn’t play it the same every time.”

In order to give musical landmarks to Bridge, Tristan keeps the phrases and sections methodical, he commented. Yet he also tries to do different variations, especially when elements repeat. “There’s so much freedom in this piece because Bach didn’t write any fingerings or bowings in the original. ... There are a lot of different interpretations out there, and I’m trying to form my own,“ he said.

Alongside the portraits, The Artist’s Mother offers labels that detail who the mothers were. The museum’s Linnea West sees this as a way of giving the mothers agency rather than treating them as passive subjects. Bridge acknowledges that her and her son’s identities will inform how audiences view their performance. But they, like Whistler, are concentrating on formal aspects. “We’re looking at this as a piece of music that we’re engaging with. We’re not making central our relationship—because we know that we don’t have to,” Bridge said. “Our relationship is absolutely on display. It’s 100% part of the work for the spectator.”

What, When, Where

The Bach Cello Suites Project. Choreography by Megan Bridge, cello performance by Tristan Price. Free with museum admission. July 29, 2023 at 1:30 and 3:30pm, at to the Philadelphia Museum of Art's Great Stair Hall, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia. (215) 763-8100 or


The museum offers various services to meet the needs of visitors. Find full details on their accessibility page.

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