Japanese organist, harpsichordist and conductor Masaaki Suzuki makes his conducting debut with the San Francisco Symphony this week in a program which takes in ‘visits’ to London, Salzburg, Switzerland and Italy. It features Haydn’s Symphony No 95 (one of his so-called ‘London symphonies’), Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto – with the Symphony’s Principal Bassoon Stephen Paulson as soloist – Stravinsky’s Concerto in D major for String Orchestra, and Mendelssohn’s Symphony No 4, Italian.
Maestro Suzuki is the founder and music director of the Bach Collegium Japan. Combining his career as a conductor with performances as an organist and harpsichordist, he has become a leading authority on the works of J S Bach, and since 1983 has appeared as an organist in a number of European countries.
He is also Professor of Organ and Harpsichord at Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music, and in May 2009 took up a two-year appointment as Visiting Professor of Choral Conducting at The Yale Institute of Sacred Music, Yale School of Music, and conductor of Yale Schola Cantorum, the University’s renowned chamber choir, of which he is now Principal Guest Conductor.
Masaaki Suzuki has led a number of major orchestras – such as the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, the New York Philharmonic, and the Tokyo Philharmonic – and this year makes his debut with the Danish National Radio Symphony, as well. He will also appear, with Bach Collegium Japan, at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, and make debut appearances at Dublin’s National Concert Hall and the Vienna Konzerthaus.
He was decorated with the Cross of the Order of Merit from the Federal Republic of Germany in 2001, awarded the Leipzig Bach Medal in 2012, and the Royal Academy of Music Bach Prize in 2013.
Stephen Paulson was appointed Principal Bassoon of the San Francisco Symphony in 1977. He is also a conductor, and has served as Music Director of Symphony Parnassus since 1998.
A longtime Professor of Bassoon at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Mr Paulson has given master classes at colleges such as the Juilliard School, the Manhattan School of Music, New England Conservatory, and the Shanghai Conservatory, and has performed and taught at the Aspen Music Festival, New World Symphony, Grand Teton Music Festival, and the Symphony Orchestra Academy of the Pacific. In 2009 he performed in the YouTube Orchestra Summit at Carnegie Hall – assisting Michael Tilson Thomas as woodwind coach – and in 1995 performed with the World Orchestra for Peace at the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations in Geneva.
Haydn’s Symphony No 95 was written in 1791, following an invitation by the expatriate German violinist and impresario Johann Peter Salomon to undertake two residencies in the city. In return, Haydn wrote a total of 12 symphonies, No 95 being the third. It premiered at the Hanover Square Concert Rooms in London in April 1791, with the composer conducting.
Mozart composed his Bassoon Concerto in B-flat major, K.191(186e) for the musicians of the Archbishop’s Court Orchestra in Salzburg – for whom many of his early works were composed. It was written in 1774, but apparently no detail about its premiere has been found.
Stravinsky dedicated his Concerto for String Orchestra to the Basel Chamber Orchestra and its conductor, Paul Sacher, who performed the premiere on January 27 1947, to mark the ensemble’s 20th anniversary. This concerto was the work to which choreographer Jerome Robbins set one of his early ballets, The Cage, its premiere performance by New York City Ballet in 1951 prompting the Company’s general director Lincoln Kirstein to write to Stravinsky: “Robbins’s ballet, to your beautiful Basle Concerto, has been the conspicuous success of our June season”.
The inspiration for Mendelssohn’s Symphony No 4 followed his visit to Italy in 1830-31, and he wrote to his sister Fanny that “it will be the happiest piece I have ever written”. He conducted the premiere at a London Philharmonic Society concert in May 1833, but wasn’t happy with the score, over which he agonized for a number of years. When it came to be published in 1951, however, none of Mendelssohn’s changes had been made, and it’s now regarded as one of his most popular works.
Masaaki Suzuki conducts the San Francisco Symphony, with soloist Stephen Paulson, at Davies Symphony Hall on February 5 and 6. For more information, and for tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.
Notes provided by the San Francisco Symphony
Bach Cantatas website
James M Keller, program annotator for the San Francisco Symphony:
Mozart Bassoon Concerto
Stravinsky Concerto for String Orchestra
Mendelssohn Symphony No 4