The 2012 Bach Medal, awarded by the city of Leipzig, was presented to the Japanese conductor, organist, and harpsichordist Masaaki Suzuki on June 8, at a ceremony during the Leipzig Bach Festival. Suzuki, the founder and director of Bach Collegium Japan, is a member of the Yale faculty and the director of Yale Schola Cantorum.
The Bach Medal is awarded annually since 2003 to musicians whose work focuses on Bach in a significant way. The jury, which voted unanimously in favor of Suzuki, noted that Suzuki has made particularly significant contributions to the dissemination of the works of Johann Sebastian Bach in his homeland of Japan.
Bach Collegium Japan was the first Japanese ensemble to specialize in historically-informed performance practice. The jury’s decision stated, in part: “concerning the repertoire of Bach, which has always been much-appreciated in Japan… [Suzuki has] created an awareness for a scientifically and historically oriented performance practice in Japan and the entire Asian region.”
The Bach Medal was awarded during a public ceremony on Friday, June 8 in Leipzig’s Old City Hall. Later that day, Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan played at St. Thomas Church, where Suzuki directed a performance of the Saint Matthew Passion, BWV 244b, in the version from 1729. The soloists will be Hana Blažiková, Rachel Nicholls (soprano), Robin Blaze (contralto), Gerd Türk (tenor – Evangelist), and Peter Kooij (bass).
Masaaki Suzuki was born in 1954 to Protestant parents in Kobe (Japan). He completed a training as an organist, harpsichordist and composer, first in Tokyo and then in Amsterdam with Ton Koopman. Today, Masaaki Suzuki works as a professor of organ and harpsichord music at the Tokyo University of the Arts. He is also Visiting Professor of Choral Conducting at the Yale School of Music, as well as the director of Yale Schola Cantorum.
Since founding Bach Collegium Japan in 1990, Masaaki Suzuki has established himself as a leading authority on the works of Bach. He has remained the Collegium’s music director ever since, taking the group regularly to major venues and festivals in Europe and the USA and building up an outstanding reputation for the expressive refinement and truth of his performances. In addition to conducting, Suzuki is also renowned as an organist and harpsichordist.
He is regularly invited to work with renowned European soloists and groups, such as Collegium Vocale Gent and the Freiburger Barockorchester; he recently appeared in London with the Britten Sinfonia in a program of Britten, Mozart and Stravinsky. Forthcoming engagements with other ensembles include the Hong Kong Philharmonic, the Nagoya Philharmonic and the Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic Orchestras. In 2001 Suzuki was decorated with the Federal Order of Merit from Germany.
Suzuki’s impressive discography on the BIS label includes his interpretations with Bach Collegium Japan of Bach’s major choral works and sacred cantatas. With over forty volumes now completed, the Times has written: “it would take an iron bar not to be moved by his crispness, sobriety and spiritual vigor.”
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