Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Thile, and Edgar Meyer have for years been musical fellow travelers and friends—brilliant, like-minded performers who have converged in the studio and on stage for several extraordinary projects. The work of Johann Sebastian Bach has often been at the heart of their ongoing artistic discourse. In March of 2016, the trio returned to the James Taylor's Berkshires studio, the site where violinist Stuart Duncan joined them to record the Grammy Award–winning The Goat Rodeo Sessions, to record the new album Bach Trios.
"The love of Bach is so central to the three of us that it is surprisingly difficult to explain," says double bassist Meyer. "It can be a shared experience, with so many pieces that we all know and have played. It can be a common dialect, from which we reference all other music. It certainly is a standard of beauty and logic that inspires for a lifetime."
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma echoes that latter sentiment: "Bach's music has the capacity to be infinitely empathetic to the human condition while at the same time being completely objective. It is because of this dichotomy that I have played the same music both for weddings and for memorials."
In 2013, mandolinist Thile released Bach: Sonatas and Partitas, Vol. 1, a solo disc for Nonesuch recorded at Taylor's barn studio and produced by Meyer. The New Yorker's Alec Wilkinson said of that album, "You have the feeling of someone trying as hard as he can to live inside the music and to breathe with it. His elaborate and often stunning playing is laced with sadness but also with a wild, delirious pleasure, a piercing happiness, even a joy."
Returning to the barn to record Bach Trios, Thile explains, "There is a religious aspect to working on Bach. It's sacred. Spending time with Bach gives any serious musician a sense of being in the presence of something higher. He's kind of a god-like figure in the music community. All arguments about who's the greatest musician start after Bach."
In his liner notes essay for Bach Trios, the composer and pianist Timo Andres admits "mandolin, cello, and double bass are, at face value, an unlikely instrumental combination, but this is an obviously harmonious set of personalities and musical predilections. There is a huge range of possibility in Bach interpretation, from the revisionist, almost authorial approach to the scholarly and historically informed. There's much to be gained from both schools, and, wisely, the Thile/Ma/Meyer trio finds its voice somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Here, drawn in by the directness of the music itself, it's entirely possible to lose oneself for long stretches, just listening." (Nonesuch)