April 17, 2015

Masterclass notes from Harpsichordist, Pianist and Organist Masato Suzuki

Masterclass notes from Harpsichordist, Pianist and Organist Masato Suzuki

photo credits: Marco Borggreve

Harpsichordist, pianist and organist Masato Suzuki is in Singapore to play an organ recital at the Esplanade Concert Hall on Sunday, 19th April, as part of the Tapestry of Sacred Music festival, now in its 7th year running. The Esplanade organised a private masterclass for the students at SOTA this afternoon, and what a privilege it was to be able to attend.

Suzuki started off the masterclass by playing the beginning of J. S. Bach’s Italian Concerto (bb. 1-27), first on the harpsichord, then on the grand piano, interpreting both versions very differently. On the harpsichord, he demonstrated an over legato technique (which he later explained) of connecting the notes two by two using the third and fourth fingers. On the grand piano, however, he played around with the articulation, using staccato, dynamics and other devices. He also showed how much more cumbersome and difficult it was to use the over-legato technique on the piano.

He involved the students in an improvisation exercise where he took the most famous of ground basses from Pachelbel but modulated to F major, and got the SOTA students to improvise over the repeated bass. Each student had a turn to play an improvisation, something the students were clearly not used to doing at all!

Moving on, Suzuki covered a very brief history of the harpsichord and its music, explaining that the 16th-century harpsichords were smaller in size than the one he was playing on in SOTA, but had a bigger sound. Moving briefly onto organs, he mentioned that the organs were used as often as and interchangeably with harpsichords. The early organ, called blockwerk, was capable of playing the same note in various different octaves all sounding at the same time.

He then demonstrated passages on the harpsichord from the earliest 14th-century manuscript of keyboard music, known as the Robertsbridge Codex, explaining that in those earliest times there was no time signature and the meter of the music kept varying between three, four and two main beats. Playing just the opening on the grand piano, he doubled the octaves and added more percussive articulation, something he said he always wanted to try but was “very difficult to do” because the music was so fast!

All through the masterclass, Suzuki was a great advocate of improvising baroque music, especially when playing it on the piano. “When you play old works like Scarlatti or Rameau on the piano, be very free with the music, because what you are doing is a variation of the original,” he stresses. He advocates improvisation because the music written was written before the invention of the piano anyway, so anything the pianist did on the piano would be a variation of what was originally conceived. Besides, the piano has infinite possibilities of articulation and dynamic variations to explore.

Leaving us with one final example, he played his own transcription of the famous Bach chorale “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” BWV 140, getting a student to play the inside voice. Likening baroque music to jazz, he explained the concept of notes inégales (french for unequal notes), playing bits of the chorale once more, with the emphasis on unequal notes. Ending off his session, he continually encouraged students to try improvising in their playing, “even on stage and in competitions” for a change!

How often does one get to hear the glorious, magnificent Klais pipe organ in the Esplanade Concert Hall? Join renowned Japanese conductor and organist Masato Suzuki as he takes audiences on a journey across the centuries in an exploration of familiar favourites and hidden gems of the organ repertoire. One of the highlights of the programme will include a selection of organ works based on Buddhist chants that were composed for the first pipe organ in Japan that was housed in a Buddhist temple.

Happening on Sunday, 19th April at 3pm, at the Esplanade Concert Hall. Admission is free!

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This concert is co-produced by Suntory Hall, Tokyo.

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