Bach Collegium Japan
|Also known as||BCJ|
Bach Collegium Japan (BCJ) is composed of an orchestra and a chorus specializing in Baroque music, playing on period instruments. It was founded in 1990 by Masaaki Suzuki with the purpose of introducing Japanese audiences to European Baroque music. Suzuki still remains its music director. The ensemble has recorded all of Bach’s cantatas, a project that extended from 1995 to 2018 and accounts for over half of its discography.
The ensemble was founded in 1990 by Masaaki Suzuki who is still its music director Since then, they have become sought-after performers, collaborating with European artists such as Max von Egmond, Nancy Argenta, Christoph Prégardien, Peter Kooy, Monika Frimmer, Michael Chance, Kai Wessel, Gerd Türk, Michael Schopper and Concerto Palatino.
They have toured Asia, Europe and North America, with many performances as cultural festivals such as Edinburgh Festival, the Hong Kong Arts Festival, the Festival Internacional Cervantino the Bach Festival in Leipzig, the Oregon Bach Festival and the Boston Early Music Festival.
Five years after the Collegium was founded, they began a project to record all the Bach cantatas, finishing in 2013. Working with Swedish record label BIS, the work was performed at a Christian chapel at Kobe University, one of the few Christian churches in the country large enough to properly perform such works. These recordings account for over half of the ensemble’s 99-album discography.
The Collegium is based in Tokyo and Kobe, with the aim of introducing Japanese audiences to Baroque music on period instruments. It consists of a Baroque orchestra and chorus with about twenty voices and about 25 instrumentalists at any given performance. Unlike most Japanese orchestras, it has some female section-leaders, and it draws on a hand-picked group of European instrumentalists. The vocal soloists are also a mix of Japanese and foreign, Suzuki's argument being that if the Collegium employed only Europeans, there would be little to distinguish it from other period ensembles.
Masaaki Suzuki (b. 1954) founded the collegium after being invited to inaugurate a hall in Osaka, bringing together two ensembles already under his direction. Suzuki is a pioneer of early-music performance in East Asia and an international Bach authority. He graduated Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music and later attended the Sweelinck Conservatory in Amsterdam, studying under Piet Kee and Ton Koopman.
The focus of the ensemble, for which they are noted, is the works of Bach and those Protestant German composers that influenced him such as Dietrich Buxtehude, Heinrich Schütz, Johann Hermann Schein and Georg Böhm. Best known for their performances of Bach’s Cantatas, they have also performed his Passions, as well as Handel’s Messiah and Monteverdi's Vespers. Most of these works are for a full chorus, but it also presents smaller programs for soloists and small vocal groups.
Alex Ross identifies Suzuki’s approach to Bach’s music as falling between two extremes, that of large ensembles (now regarded as old-fashioned in this repertoire), and on the other hand that of purists with one voice per part. According to Ross, Suzuki's interpretations tend towards subtlety rather than flamboyance avoiding "abrupt accents, florid ornaments, and freewheeling tempos that are fashionable in Baroque performance practice". Ross praises Suzuki's clarity and musicality but suggests that at times the performances can seem to lack force. The BBC reviewed a 2013 release in the cantata series as "Fluently stylish and idiomatic, the performers live and breathe Bach's music with as much immediacy as if it had been composed yesterday".
- "Bach Collegium Japan (Choral & Instrumental Ensemble)". Cantatas.com. Retrieved May 21, 2015.
- Alex Ross (April 11, 2011). "The Book of Bach - The Bach Collegium Japan, and John Eliot Gardiner". New York: The New Yorker. Archived from the original on May 31, 2015. Retrieved May 21, 2015.
- Erica Jeal (May 17, 2015). "Bach Collegium Japan review – temperate ensemble playing". The Guardian. London. Retrieved May 21, 2015.
- "Músicos japoneses ofrecerán cantatas de Bach en el Cervantino". Excelsior. Mexico City. October 22, 2014. Retrieved May 21, 2015.
- "Bach Collegium Japan, Canadian Brass Among Highlights of Music Season". Targeted News Service. Washington DC. April 2, 2010.
- "Johann Sebastian Bach Cantatas vol. 51 (Bach Collegium Japan; conductor: Masaaki Suzuki) Review". London: BBC. Retrieved May 21, 2015.
- Andrew Clark (February 25, 2000). "Passionate encounter with Japan: Andrew Clark meets Masaaki Suzuki as his Bach Collegium produces a stunning St Matthew Passion: [London edition]". Financial Times. London. p. 16.
- "Discography". Bach Collegium Japan. Retrieved May 21, 2015.
- William J. Gatens (May 1996). "Guide to records -- Bach's Cantatas 4, 21, 31, 71, 106, 131, 150, 185, and 196 by Amsterdam Baroque and others under Ton Koopman / Bach's Cantatas 4, 150 and 196 by Bach Collegium Japan and others under Masaaki Suzuki". American Record Guide. 59 (3): 71.