The classical sounds of Christmas will be coming to Ann Arbor tonight.
The Bach Collegium Japan is an ensemble that was started in 1990 by Masaaki Suzuki, founder and musical director of the group. They will perform J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, which is split up in parts that celebrate the major feasts of Christmas time. Bach Collegium Japan will perform parts, one, two, three and six.
“I think people will enjoy the variety of expression of the music, as well as experience the story of Christmas time,” said Suzuki in an interview with The Daily. “I’m hoping to show a connection between Christmas and the passion chorale.”
The passion chorale appears at the beginning and ending of the Christmas Oratorio, and Suzuki finds it to be one of the most interesting aspects of Bach’s piece.
Bach has always played a huge influence on Suzuki’s music work. The Bach Collegium Japan started as a small choir, which later expanded and gave him the chance to perform some of his works.
Suzuki has established himself as an outstanding conductor, organist, harpsichordist and leading authority on Bach. Suzuki has guest conducted the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony and more. He was awarded with the Leipzig Bach Medal in 2012, the Royal Academy of Music Bach Prize in 2013 and the Das Verdienstkreuz am Bande des Verdienstordens der Bundesrepublik from Germany in 2001. The Bach Collegium Japan has also won several awards, including the 45th Suntory Music Prize and the Echo Classical Music Prize in 2014.
Understandably, Bach has played a major role in Suzuki’s musical career. Suzuki noted that Bach’s music has a universal appeal to it, as it has the ability for everyone to understand the emotions and moods it attempts to portray.
“Music is very powerful and dense in its structure,” Suzuki said. “It speaks to me very strongly. The three dimensions built into Bach’s oratorio — the biblical text, chorale movements and congregational singing — will give the show a lot of variety and power.”
The ensemble has also recorded Bach’s complete cantatas in chronological order, an enormous project that spanned from 1995 to 2013. Receiving high praise internationally, their work has not gone by unnoticed. They have also recorded works by other classical composers, such as Beethoven’s ninth symphony and Mozart’s “Requiem.”
The Bach Collegium Japan brings together musicians worldwide for its performances, coming from America, Europe and Japan. The ensemble performs all over the world and regularly in their home country’s cities of Tokyo, Kobe and Nagoya.
“We work on a project basis, so every time we come back together it’s a reunion,” Suzuki said. “Especially with the spirit and theme of Christmas time, it’ll be a very happy atmosphere for us.”
Suzuki is also a principal guest conductor of Yale Schola Cantorum and was on the choral conducting faculty at the Yale School of Music and Yale Institute of Sacred Music from 2009 to 2013.
Suzuki and the rest of his ensemble keep Bach’s music and spirit alive through their dedication and hard work.