Singular suites

Japanese cellist Hidemi Suzuki opens with Bach at the Eilat Chamber Music Festival.

Singular suites (photo credit: Courtesy)
Singular suites
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Hidemi Suzuki, a prominent Japanese cellist cum conductor, will open the Eilat Chamber Music Festival on May 1 with a performance of Bach’s Suite No.1 for Cello Solo.
Born in Japan, Suzuki graduated from the Toho Gakuen School of Music in Tokyo, where he studied violoncello and conducting and continued his music education in The Netherlands with Anner Bijlsma at the Royal Conservatory. He won first prize at the 1st International Baroque Cello Competition in Paris in 1986, was a member of the Orchestra of the 18th Century from 1985 to 1993, was a principal member of La Petite Bande from 1992 to 2001 and has been first cellist of Bach Collegium Japan since its founding.
“The set of Bach’s six suites is indeed special in cello history because of its construction,” explains Suzuki on the eve of his performance in Eilat. “Nobody thought that it was possible to compose a complete piece of music [melody, harmony and bass] on a single bass instrument. Until today, there is hardly any cello music written that can compete with these. Every piece of music naturally needs understanding of its context, style etc., but in Bach’s suites, you also need some knowledge of each dance, temperament, history of the instrument and some rules of music of the 18th century.”
In another program Suzuki, together with Orchester Wiener Akademie under Martin Haselbock, will perform the Cello Concerto in A Major by Carl Philip Emanuel Bach.
C.P.E. Bach, the second son of Johann Sebastian, wrote three concerti for cello and orchestra. The solo part of all of them can be replaced by the flute or harpsichord, which is unique.
“It was rather unusual to conceive of the cello as a solo instrument at that time. We don’t know who C.P.E. Bach had in mind, as the flute was the king’s instrument in Potsdam and the keyboard was his. In cello history, these three are placed in between J.S. Bach’s suites and Haydn’s concerti. I think it is kind of an important milestone in 18th-century cello music,” says Suzuki.
“Cellists often complain that we don’t have enough solo repertoires and try to arrange violin pieces, etc., but these three wonderful pieces are rarely played, partly due to the difference of the instrument from the modern type of cello and the Baroque/classical ones. If you don’t want to change anything on the instrument you have, either the music is distorted or you change the repertoire,” says the cellist.
A year after returning to Japan in 2000, Suzuki founded Orchestra Libera Classica.
“The orchestra specializes in classical music to distinguish it from Baroque. The musical backbone of the activity is Haydn’s symphonies, and now we’ve reached Beethoven’s Eroica. We try to give a fresh sound to well-known pieces, as well as introducing unknown ones of famous composers,” he says.
Suzuki has also written several books.
“This is a continuation of my series of lectures – public lesson – concert mixture. It started with explaining Bach’s suites, then continued with many others. Gut café is a form of music discussions, with people openly asking questions, exchanging information and opinions like in a conversation at a café. It is quite different from the usual scene of public lesson, which is done with the students sitting in dead silence,” he says.
This is not Suzuki’s first visit to Israel.
“My Israeli connection started with my old friend Michael Melzer, who studied at the Hague conservatory at the same time as I did. He invited me to come to Israel and took me to various spots. My second visit was just before the Gulf War started, when I was asked to replace some canceled concerts and played Bach suites at the Weizmann house.
From time to time I also have the chance to meet or play with Israeli musicians and students. I can only hope that the situation doesn’t get any worse so that we can meet more often without stress,” says the musician.