Canadian cellist Ofra Harnoy has returned to the classical music scene with Back to Bach, which features baroque favourites, such as “Bach’s Air” from Orchestral Suite No. 3 and “Bist du bei mir”, as well as some lesser-known gems from composers such as Allegri and Corelli.
Harnoy, a member of the Order of Canada, has won five Juno awards and recorded over 40 solo albums spanning many musical styles and genres.
However, endless recording sessions and constant touring resulted in a debilitating shoulder injury. Harnoy underwent reconstructive surgery in 2015.
“Most of my tendons were severed. It would take years of rehabilitation and determination to play the cello again. Not being able to make music was almost like not being able to breathe,” said Harnoy.
Harnoy returned invigorated. “With this being my first album since my hiatus, and with all the technology and multi-tracking available I wanted to have a different version of my old traditional baroque favourites that I played when I was very young,” explained Harnoy. “I was excited to explore the concept of creating a large cello ensemble by myself for some of the selections, and introduce the innovative approach of having the beautiful organ-like sound of a brass choir accompaniment for the rest, in order to realize my personal version of this music.”
The large cello ensemble, achieved through overdubbing and multi-tracking techniques, can be heard on Allegri’s “Miserere mei”, “Deus” and Telemann’s “Sonata No. 1” composed in 1738. “There are 17 tracks; many are completely innovative and new in their approach to beautiful traditional old works of music,” said Harnoy.
The Israeli-born musician was predestined to play the cello.
“My father played the violin as a hobby – he was a professional engineer and my mother played the piano and basically before they had their child they decided they wanted a cellist so they could have a piano trio because they loved to play for fun,” said Harnoy.
“I was handed a little quarter-size cello when I was not quite six-years old and it kind of became my voice. I always felt it was an extension of me and there is no emotion or feeling or expression that I couldn’t bring out on this instrument.”
Harnoy immigrated to Canada at age six, made her professional debut as an orchestral soloist at age 10, and recorded her first album at 14. Over the years, Harnoy received scholarships and studied under top cellists William Pleeth, Vladimir Orloff and Mstislav Rostropovich, and participated in master classes with Janos Starker, Pierre Fournier, and Jacqueline du Pré.
Harnoy raised her family in Toronto. “I slowed down my touring when I had kids,” said Harnoy. When her mother became ill with leukemia, she stopped touring to take care of her.“When I tried to come back to playing I realized very quickly that something was wrong. I was in pain but I didn’t realize to what extent. It was only a little over two years ago that I started to play again. I had no strength; I had to start from scratch. I began with two minutes a day and then five minutes a day and then 10 minutes a day. Within a few months I felt stronger than ever, and started going through my old repertoire, and I said I’m ready to come back.”
Last November, Harnoy performed a comeback concert at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, featuring a 40-piece orchestra and a 16-voice gospel choir. “That was the turning point that led to a snowball effect of everything that is happening right now.”
Back to Bach was recorded in her home studio in St. John’s, N.L., and produced by her husband, musician Mike Herriott. It is the first album of a five-album commitment with Analekta classical musical recording label. “My day is practise,” said Harnoy. “Like people go to the office, we practise, we record, we rehearse.”
Harnoy plans a tour of Western Canada later this fall, and a tour of Asia for the spring of 2020.
“I have come back with deeper appreciation and the wisdom of years and maturity, and grateful for making music every day,” Harnoy said.