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Masaaki Suzuki

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Masaaki Suzuki was better known as a keyboard player in the first decade or so of his career, but since founding the Bach Collegium Japan in 1990, he has established himself as one of the leading conductors of Baroque choral music. Revered as a Bach specialist, Suzuki has led the Bach Collegium in a complete survey of the composer's choral works and many of his orchestral works, including the Brandenburg Concertos and Orchestral Suites, for the BIS label. In addition, Suzuki has recorded Bach's complete works for harpsichord and, in 2015, began a cycle of the composer's organ works. His repertoire also takes in the music of Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, and many others. In 2020, he issued a recording of Bach's Toccatas on harpsichord. Suzuki was born in Kobe, Japan, on April 29, 1954. As a child, he exhibited musical talent early on and, by age 12, was a church organist. He later enrolled at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, where he studied composition and organ. His teachers there included Akio Yashiro and Tsuguo Hirono. After receiving a master's degree in organ performance in 1979 (his bachelor's was in composition), he decided to take further instruction, enrolling at the Sweelinck Conservatory in Amsterdam to study organ with Piet Kee and harpsichord with Ton Koopman. In 1980, Suzuki was awarded second prize in harpsichord improvisation at the Flanders Early Music Festival in Bruges, Belgium, and three years later received third prize for organ playing there. During this period, he also taught harpsichord at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Duisburg, Germany (1981 until 1983). In 1983, he began appearing regularly in Japan as an organ and harpsichord soloist while serving on the faculty at Kobe Shoin Women's College, where he continues to teach as a guest professor. During this time, Suzuki began conducting small ensembles, an activity that grew over the years, leading to his founding of the Bach Collegium Japan in 1990. This ensemble, made up of singers and period instrumentalists, began appearing in regular concerts in 1992 with Suzuki as music director, a position he has since maintained. This new activity added to his already busy schedule of soloist and teacher: in 1991, he was appointed professor of organ and harpsichord at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, founding an early music program there in 2000. He held this post until 2010. From 2009 until 2013, he taught choral conducting at Yale University. His association with the university has continued, as he serves as the principal guest conductor of the Yale Schola Cantorum. Suzuki and the Bach Collegium began recording all of Bach's cantatas in 1995 for the BIS label, completing a full survey of his sacred cantatas in 2014 and his secular cantatas in 2018. Suzuki and the Bach Collegium have recorded all of Bach's choral works for BIS, including a 2007 recording of the Mass in B minor and a 2010 offering of Motets, each of which earned a Diapason d'Or de l'Année award. Though Bach makes up a considerable percentage of Suzuki's and his ensemble's recorded output, similar success has been found with other composers, including winning a Gramophone Award for choral music for a 2016 release of Mozart's Great Mass; Suzuki and the Bach Collegium won this same award in 2020 for the album Bach: St. Matthew Passion. As a soloist, he has recorded all of Bach's harpsichord works and has taken up the same project for the composer's organ works. Suzuki issued a recording of Bach's Toccatas for harpsichord in 2020.
© Keith Finke & Robert Cummings /TiVo
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